ADEN, (AFP) – Yemen has deployed new anti-terrorism forces in the country’s restive south, the interior ministry announced on Saturday, as Washington urged Sanaa to step up its fight against Al-Qaeda.
The announcement follows a spate of deadly attacks on government and military targets in the south, the latest on Friday when according to a security official a suspected Al-Qaeda militant shot dead an off-duty soldier who ferried him on his motor-bike taxi in Zinjibar, capital of Abyan province.
The Yemeni government is deploying the anti-terrorism units in the four southern and southeastern provinces of Hadramawt, Abyan, Shabwa and Marib, the ministry said in a statement on its website.
The creation of these units will “bring the confrontation with the members of the Al-Qaeda terrorist network to a critical stage” and “tighten the noose around it,” it said.
Vice President Abdrabbo Mansur, quoted on state news agency Saba, said Yemen would continue to fight terrorism with the aim of achieving “security and stability” in cooperation with others.
US counter-terrorism advisor John Brennan urged President Ali Abdullah Saleh on Friday to take “forceful action against Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in order to thwart its plans to carry out terrorist attacks in Yemen as well as in other countries,” the White House said.
Brennan’s comments came a year after a botched attempt to blow up a US passenger plane last Christmas by a Nigerian with Yemeni and AQAP links.
AQAP has also claimed a foiled air cargo bomb plot in October, when printer toner cartridges rigged as bombs were shipped out of Sanaa and, according to investigators, primed to explode over the United States.
One of the leaders of the group – US-Yemeni citizen Anwar al-Awlaqi, believed at large in Yemen’s vast and lawless tribal areas – is now viewed by Washington as a threat on a par with Al-Qaeda head Osama bin Laden.
In the past six months, 28 suicide attacks by bike-borne militants have killed 15 officials in Abyan alone, the southern province which has become an Al-Qaeda bastion.
Security officials say the Islamists have carried out similar attacks in other provinces.
In Friday’s attack, a gunman hired soldier Saleh al-Qudossi, who works as a taxi driver after hours to supplement his income, to take him to his home in a suburb, the security official said.
On arrival the passenger pulled out a gun and shot dead the soldier.
Outside service hours, soldiers whose monthly salaries of 120 dollars are insufficient to support their families, use their motorcycles as taxis for an additional source of income, said a local official.
With motorbike hit-and-run shootings on the rise, the authorities in October have ordered about 2,000 two-wheelers off the streets of Abyan and enforced restrictions on their use in other areas.
Soldiers have been banned from using motor-bike taxis but many continue to use them when off-duty as a source of income and cheap form of transportation.