December 29, 2009 / 4:48 PM / 8 years ago

Yemen says may harbor up to 300 Qaeda suspects

LONDON (Reuters) - Yemen’s Foreign Minister Abubakr al-Qirbi said on Tuesday there could be up to 300 al Qaeda militants in his country, some of whom may be planning attacks on Western targets.

<p>Yemeni al-Qaeda militants listen to a verdict from behind bars at the courtroom of a state security court in Sanaa July 13, 2009. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah</p>

“Of course there are a number of al Qaeda operatives in Yemen and some of their leaders. We realize this danger,” he told BBC radio.

“And they may actually plan for attacks like the one we have just had in Detroit.”

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, based in Yemen, has claimed responsibility for Friday’s attempted bombing of a Delta Airlines plane as it approached Detroit. [nLDE5BR0KO]

Asked to specify the exact number of al Qaeda operatives, Qirbi replied: “I can’t give you really an exact figure. There are maybe hundreds of them: 200, 300 -- I don’t have real (hard) figures.”

Nigerian suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, charged with trying to blow up the plane on Christmas Day, lived in Yemen from August to December.

He is said to have told the FBI that there are many more like him prepared to carry out such attacks, according to the BBC report.

Qirbi called for proper intelligence-sharing to stop al Qaeda suspects from traveling to Yemen from countries known to be hotbeds of militancy such as Afghanistan and Iraq.

He appealed for more help from the international community to train and equip counter-terrorist forces to neutralize them.

”We have to work in a very joint fashion in partnership to combat terrorism,“ he said. ”If we do that, the problem will be brought under control.

The United States, Britain and the European Union could do much more to improve Yemen’s response to counter the threat, he said. “There is some support that is coming, but I must say it is inadequate.”

“We need more training, we have to expand our counter-terrorism units and this means providing them with the necessary military equipment and ways of transportation; we are very short of helicopters.”

Reporting by Stefano Ambrogi; Editing by Robin Pomeroy

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