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US, British Embassies in Yemen Close Due To al-Qaida Threat

The U.S. embassy in the capital Sana'a issued a message to American citizens in Yemen, urging them to remain vigilant

The United States and Britain closed their embassies in Yemen Sunday, pointing to ongoing terrorist threats. The closures come after the two nations pledged to boost counter-terrorism support to the Yemeni government.

The U.S. embassy's website said the threats come from al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, the group linked to the failed Christmas Day airplane bombing attempt in the United States.

The Nigerian suspect in the case told U.S. authorities he received training from al-Qaida affiliates in Yemen.

The closures come a day after U.S. General David Petraeus visited the capital, Sana'a, to discuss security issues with President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The influential general, who oversees the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, recently announced that Washington would more than double its security aid to the impoverished nation.

Britain has also announced plans to join with the United States in funding a counter-terrorism police unit in Yemen, as well as plans to hold an international conference on Yemeni security later this month.

Editor Hakim Almasmari, of the Yemen Post newspaper, thinks the conference might be advantageous if it results in more development projects for rural Yemen. But he fears what any foreign-backed military attacks could mean.

"Al-Qaida right now is not very strong," Almasmari said. "Its followers are not more than 400 in all. However, if the U.S. does attack Yemen, al-Qaida will get stronger and stronger because people who lose their families in the airstrikes will join al-Qaida not because they want to but because they want revenge against the Americans and the Yemeni government for the attacks."

The situation has gained new urgency as the government in Sana'a finds itself overwhelmed not only by the growing terrorist threat, but also two separate rebellions, one of which has become something of a proxy war, at least in rhetoric, between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

U.S. military experts have warned that vast reaches of the impoverished nation, with its booming population and dwindling resources, could spin permanently out of the government's control.

Muslim extremists in Somalia, the role-model for failed states, said Friday they would send fighters to Yemen.

Yemen has vowed to keep foreign extremists out.

The U.S. embassy has faced attacks from the local al-Qaida group before, with an assault outside its gates in 2008 that left 19 people - civilians and militants - dead.