VOA News Tuesday, September 21st, 2010
Yemeni officials and witnesses say security forces and counterterrorism teams have escalated their attack on a southern town where several dozen al-Qaida-linked militants have taken refuge.
Security officials said government forces moved into the town of Hawta in Shabwa Province with tanks and armored vehicles Tuesday. They reported that al-Qaida fighters had prevented a number of inhabitants from leaving and were using them as human shields.
The Associated Press said the Yemeni army destroyed five homes
A government siege auimed at dislodging militants in the town began Monday. Yemeni officials said they acted in response to a militant attack last week on a natural gas pipeline.
Officials denied reports that the radical U.S.-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki was surrounded by Yemeni forces during the offensive.
Awlaki, who is believed to be living in Yemen, has been linked to the failed Christmas Day bombing attempt on a U.S. flight last year, and to the killing of 13 people at Fort Hood, an Army base in Texas.
In April, an anonymous U.S. official was quoted as saying the Obama administration had authorized the CIA to capture or kill Awlaki.
Al-Qaida militants based in southern Yemen have claimed responsibility for a series of recent attacks on Yemeni security forces and other targets. The militants call themselves al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.
A court in the Yemeni capital, Sana’a, put four suspected al-Qaida militants on trial Monday on charges of planning attacks on foreign, government and military targets. Authorities also accuse the suspects of forming terrorist cells in the southern province of Marib.
The defendants include a German and an Iraqi. All four deny the charges.
Washington has become increasingly concerned about al-Qaida’s presence in Yemen. Senior U.S. counter-terrorism official John Brennan met with Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Sana’a Monday to discuss cooperation in the fight against the militants.
Some information in this story was provided by AP and AFP.