SAN’A, Yemen (AP) – Yemeni authorities confirmed Friday that an Egyptian national killed in a gunfight when resisting arrest was an al-Qaeda suspect and an alleged plotter of the suicide bombing that killed seven Spanish tourists and two Yemenis earlier this week.
Authorities said Ahmed Bassiouni Dewidar, 52, was killed Thursday in San’a, the capital, during a countrywide sweep that led to the arrest of some 20 suspects in the attack on a group of tourists visiting an ancient temple in the Marib region of northern Yemen. “He was one of the leaders … who planned the terrorist attack in Marib,” a security official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.
Egypt has asked Yemen to send a DNA sample of the slain suspect to confirm his identity, an Egyptian security official told the AP on Friday, speaking on condition of anonymity for the same reasons.
An Islamic fundamentalist, Dewidar was sentenced in absentia to life imprisonment in Egypt on terrorism charges, a Yemeni security official said.
Yemen’s Interior ministry described Dewidar as an important al-Qaeda operative and said he opened fire and threw hand grenades at security forces who came to arrest him, injuring five. “He had a wide and active relationship with al-Qaeda elements in Yemen, Egypt, Syria and Iraq,” the Interior Ministry said in a statement.
After killing him, security forces searched his apartment and found weapons, explosives, and forged passports and identity cards apparently used by al-Qaeda members to travel to Iraq or other Arab countries, the ministry said.
Dewidar is known in Egypt for a high profile 1999 terrorism case known as the trial of Albanian Returnees, when 107 alleged fundamentalists were brought to court, including 13 extradited to Egypt by Albania. He was among 62 to be tried in absentia on charges including criminal conspiracy, subversion, membership of an outlawed group, plotting to carry out attacks on officials and police, and forgery. He sought political asylum in Yemen in 2001, where he got married to a Yemeni national and had two children, the Yemeni official said.
Since Tuesday, Yemeni security forces backed by a team of Spanish investigators have rounded up some 20 Islamic fundamentalists including three alleged al-Qaeda members suspected of providing assistance to the suicide attack.
Authorities are also looking for three other suspects believed to have provided cover fire for the bomber. This second car has led authorities to consider whether the blast that killed the seven Spanish tourists and wounded six others was possibly detonated by remote control rather than by a suicide bomber.
A second security official said that the U.S. embassy in Yemen had also dispatched a team of investigators to probe the bombing. “The Americans want to know whether the attack was carried out by a suicide bomber or if the bomb was detonated by a remote control,” said the Yemeni official close to the investigation. “It seems this is very important to them,” the official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to disclose details of the ongoing investigation. He said the method used in the attack could indicate a shift in al-Qaeda tactics and that U.S. investigators were looking for signs of cooperation between Yemeni terrorists and insurgents in Iraq.
On Monday, a suicide bomber rammed his car into a group of Spanish tourists visiting the ruins of a temple linked to the ancient Queen of Sheba in northern Yemen.
The attack came less than two weeks after the U.S. Embassy warned Americans to avoid the area, which until recent years was rarely visited because of frequent kidnappings of foreigners.
Yemen is the ancestral home of Osama bin Laden, and police said they had received information last month about a possible al-Qaeda attack. A number of known al-Qaeda operatives remain at large in Yemen, part of a group of two dozen who escaped from a prison last year.
The northern Marib region is home to four powerful tribes with more than 70 branches and is known to be a hotbed of support for al-Qaeda.
Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh has offered a $76,000 (¤56,000) reward for any information about those responsible for the attack.