HONOLULU President Barack Obama's top counterterrorism adviser has pressed Yemen to step up its efforts against al Qaeda, the White House said on Friday, as U.S. agencies stayed alert around the first anniversary of a Christmas Day plot to down an American passenger jet.
John Brennan, an Obama aide at the center of U.S. intelligence efforts to thwart attacks by militants, spoke with Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh on Thursday.
Brennan called to "emphasize the importance of taking forceful action against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in order to thwart its plans to carry out terrorist attacks in Yemen as well as in other countries, including in the U.S. homeland," the White House said.
The U.S. government is taking extra precautions against an attack during this holiday season. Brennan convened a call on Friday between key officials to review the additional security measures being taken, the White House said.
Yemen is squarely on the radar.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, has emerged as a major international security concern since it claimed responsibility for last December's botched attempt to bomb a Detroit-bound aircraft.
The Nigerian suspect, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, allegedly tried to bring down the plane on Christmas Day last year with explosives hidden in his underpants.
U.S. officials say he told investigators he got the bomb and training from al Qaeda militants in Yemen.
The militants have since claimed credit for two U.S.-bound parcel bombs that were intercepted in Britain and Dubai in October.
Brennan also "emphasized the need to strengthen the already close cooperation between Yemeni and U.S. counter-terrorism and security services ... including the timely acquisition of all relevant information from individuals arrested by Yemeni security forces," the White House said.
Obama, on a family holiday in Hawaii, is receiving daily briefings from security staff.
Brennan said last week that U.S.-Yemen relations had been strained by Washington's desire for a quicker pace of economic and political reforms, which it hopes would slow the recruitment of Yemenis by militants.
Relations have also been tested by WikiLeaks' disclosure of State Department cables alleging President Saleh had offered to mask U.S. strikes in Yemen on al Qaeda targets.
Brennan "expressed regret" in his call to Saleh for WikiLeaks' actions and thanked him "for his explicit commitment to ensure the full cooperation of the Yemeni government and his pledge never to retreat in the face of al Qaeda," the White House said.
(Reporting by Alister Bull, Editing by John O'Callaghan)