Dozens of Al-Qaeda activists are hiding out in a remote area of Yemen, a senior official said, as the Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh on Sunday urged them to lay down their arms.
Al-Qaeda fighters, among them Saudis and Egyptians, have arrived from Afghanistan and have joined local members of the jihadist network in the rugged Kour mountain in southern Shabwa province, said provincial governor Ali Hasan al-Ahmadi. "There are dozens of Saudi and Egyptian Al-Qaeda militants who came to the province," Ahmadi told the London-based Al-Sharq Al-Awsat newspaper.
"This is in addition to Yemenis who came from Marib and Abyan (provinces) and a number of militants from Shabwa province itself," he added. Among them, he disclosed, are the leader of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) Nasser al-Wahishi, his number two, Saeed Ali al-Shehri, a Saudi, and radical US-Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Awlaqi.
Meanwhile, President Saleh said he is prepared to hold talks with the al Qaeda fighters if they turn their backs on violence. "If Al-Qaeda lay down their arms, renounce violence and terrorism and return to wisdom, we are prepared to deal with them," Saleh told Abu Dhabi TV in an interview carried by Yemen's Saba news agency on Sunday. "We are prepared to deal with anyone who renounces violence and terrorism," he said.
But the president stressed the government will crack down heavily on those who resort to violence. "They are a threat not only to Yemen but also to international peace and security, particularly Al-Qaeda. They are ignorants, drug dealers and illiterate. They have no relation with Islam," he said.