Yemeni security forces are closing in on two suspected al Qaeda terrorists sought by the US, Yemen’s President, Ali Abdullah Saleh, told the New York Times in an interview published on Wednesday.
However, Saleh told the paper that he is depending for now on tribal chieftains to locate the men and persuade them to surrender.
"The tribes know the places where they hide better than the security (forces)," Saleh said, adding that his government has been hunting the two fugitives for three months. Saleh has been anxious to demonstrate that Yemen is not among the countries that U.S. president George w. Bush last week described as "outlaw regimes" that support terrorists.
"We are dealing with the united states to confront and fight terrorism," Saleh told the NY Times.
"Yemen is chasing down so-called Qaeda members and any extremist elements that cause security problems for us or for anyplace in the world," he added. At the same time, he said, "We are looking for the Americans and Europeans to put an end to the activities of Christian and Jewish extremists, just as it has demanded of the Arabs to put an end to Arab Muslim extremists."
In the last three months, Saleh said the Yemeni government has detained more than 100 non-Yemenis who were studying or teaching at Muslim fundamentalist institutes.
Yemeni news reports say that at least 31 Yemenis who fought with the Taliban in Afghanistan are being held in the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Saleh said that he has requested U.S. help in building a reliable coast guard and would like assistance to buy spare parts for military equipment.
Al Qaeda in Italy
Four Tunisians, suspected al Qaeda members, have gone on trial in Italy, one of whom is the alleged head of Osama bin Laden's European operations, according to CNN.
The four Tunisians are also accused with such accounts as belonging to a terrorist group, crafting false passports and attempting to obtain explosives.
Essid Sami Ben Khemais is perhaps the most prominent of the four, who police believe was sent from Afghanistan to supervise Osama bin Laden's terrorist activities throughout Europe, according to AP.
Ben Khemais was detained in the northern part of Italy last April as part of a comprehensive investigation into bin Laden's al Qaeda network in Europe led by Italian and German authorities.
Ben Khemais is also suspected of having supervised a planned attack on the U.S. Embassy in Rome last January, according to Italian investigators.
Furthermore, he is also being investigated by Spanish police into whether he met with Mohammad Atta in Spain last year, the man believed to have piloted the first plane into the World Trade Center in New York on September 11.
The other defendants are Belgacem Mohamed Ben Aouadi, Bouchoucha Mokhtar and Charaabi Tarek.
Defense lawyers have argued that the men have no connections to Osama bin Laden and are not terrorists. ANSA news agency quoted the lawyers as saying their clients are members of a Tunisian opposition group.
The four suspects face up to eight years in jail if convicted. However, their defense lawyers are expected to seek the equivalent of a plea bargain in Tuesday's closed hearing that could reduce the maximum sentences to five years, AP added. All four defendants attended Tuesday's session, held at Milan's Palace of Justice.
While none of the four is accused of direct involvement in the September 11 terror attacks on the United States, prosecutor Stefano Dambruoso says each is a member of the al Qaeda network.
The men, as well as three others due to stand trial on February 18 and a fourth who will be tried later, were arrested after a thorough surveillance operation.
They are charged with supplying false documents, breaking immigration laws, and criminal association with the intent to obtain and transport arms, explosives and chemicals, AP said. (Albawaba.com)
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