News / Middle East

White House: Al-Qaida Threat Closes US Embassy in Yemen

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U.S. President Barack Obama's top counter-terrorism advisor says a threat from an al-Qaida affiliate led to the closure of the American embassy in Yemen.  This same group has been linked to the attempted Christmas Day bombing of a U.S. airliner.

John Brennan says the embassy was closed to protect the lives of its staff.

"There are indications that al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula is targeting our embassy and targeting our personnel and we are not going to take any chances with the lives of our diplomats and others who are at that embassy," he said.

The president's homeland security advisor told the FOX News Sunday television program the United States is working with the Yemeni government to deal with the terrorist threat.

On NBC's Meet the Press, he was asked if that means Yemen is a major new front in the war on terrorism.

Brennan said it has long been an area of concern.

"We have been focused on this issue," he added.  "We need to make sure that we continue to provide the training, the support that Yemen needs to counter this very serious threat."

The United States and Britain have agreed to fund a new counter-terrorism police unit in Yemen.  The British government, which has also closed its embassy there, is hosting a conference later this month designed to boost Yemen's ability to fight terrorism.

On Saturday, President Obama said an al-Qaida affiliate in Yemen apparently trained and equipped the Nigerian man accused in the failed Christmas Day attack on a Detroit-bound Northwest Airlines flight.

Brennan - who is leading a White House investigation into the incident - told ABC's This Week there were bits and pieces of information about the suspect, but no definitive evidence. 

"There was no single piece of intelligence, a 'smoking gun' if you will, that said that Mr. Abdulmutallab was going to carry out his attack against that aircraft," he explained.

Congress is planning hearings into the matter over the coming weeks.  The top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee says he wants to know why so many Yemenis held at the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba have been sent back home in recent years.

Senator Kit Bond of Missouri told Fox News Sunday many of those returned to Yemen are now active in al-Qaida.  

"I think the Bush administration has been shown to have made a mistake," he said.  "I hope the Obama administration will learn from that and not continue to commit the same mistake."

Michigan Congressman Peter Hoekstra, the senior Republican on the House Committee on Intelligence, recently visited Yemen.  He said there is no partisan divide in Washington on the nature of the threat now emanating from that country.

"It appears that we are now all on the same page," he said.  "We recognize the imminent threat.  We are committed to enhancing our intelligence capabilities and our offensive capability to deal with this."

Hoekstra was interviewed on ABC's This Week.

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