WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States has indications al Qaeda is planning an attack against a target in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa, a senior aide to President Barack Obama said on Sunday.
John Brennan, Obama’s assistant for homeland security and counterterrorism, told CNN’s “State of the Union” that “there are indications that al Qaeda is planning an attack against a target in Sanaa.”
The United States closed its embassy in Sanaa on Sunday, saying it had taken the action “in response to ongoing threats by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to attack American interests in Yemen.”
“We know that al Qaeda is out there. We know we have to mind our steps,” Brennan added.
A Nigerian man, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who is charged with attempting to bomb a U.S. aircraft carrying 300 people on Christmas Day, is believed to have received training from the militant group in Yemen.
Al Qaeda said the attempted bombing was in retaliation for U.S. involvement in Yemen and its military support for the Yemeni government, which launched an offensive against the Islamist group.
Brennan said later on “Fox News Sunday” that Abdulmutallab was trained at one of the militant training camps hit during a December operation. Senior militant leaders were said to have been killed or seriously injured in the offensive.
“Over the past month, Al Qaeda has taken a number of hits, and a number of Al Qaeda leaders in Yemen are no longer with us because of this determined and aggressive action,” he said.
Brennan said there were “several hundred” al Qaeda members in Yemen and that “we are doing everything possible to scour all the intelligence that is out there to see whether or not there’s another Abdulmutallab out there.”
Two senior Republican and Democratic lawmakers on Sunday urged the White House not to release home to Yemen detainees from the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, military prison, which Obama has vowed to close.
“It would be irresponsible to take any of the Yemeni detainees in Guantanamo and send them back to Yemen,” Senator Susan Collins, senior Republican on the Senate Homeland Security committee, said on ABC’s “This Week.”
Representative Jane Harman, a Democrat and head of the House of Representatives Homeland Security intelligence subcommittee, said on ABC that while she still supported closing the facility, the decision on where the remaining detainees will be sent needs to be reviewed.
“I think it is a bad time to send the 90 or so Yemenis back to Yemen.”
There are still 91 Yemeni detainees at the Guantanamo prison, which was opened in 2002 to house terrorism suspects. Six detainees were transferred to Yemen in December.
The Obama administration has faced significant difficulties repatriating them or finding other places to send them due to concerns about al Qaeda in Yemen.
Writing by Alan Elsner and Jackie Frank; Editing by Paul Simao