Sunday, 30 May 2010

Any U.S. attempt to kill Awlaki in Yemen unacceptable, Prime Minister

Source: Reuters, By Raissa Kasolowsky 31/05/2010

SANAA -An assassination on Yemeni territory of a radical Muslim cleric wanted dead or alive by U.S. authorities would be unacceptable, the Yemeni prime minister said on Sunday.

U.S. President Barack Obama's National Security Council recently gave the CIA the green light to kill Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S.-Yemeni citizen whom they accuse of having links to al Qaeda and who is believed to be in hiding in southern Yemen.

"We will absolutely not accept that," Prime Minister Ali Mohammed Megawar told Reuters in an interview.

"We are a sovereign country."

According to the latest information, Awlaki was still in the southern Yemeni province of Shabwa, Megawar said.

U.S. authorities say Awlaki was added to the CIA's hit list after he became "operational" in al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which claimed responsibility for a failed plot to blow up a U.S.-bound passenger plane on Christmas Day.

The Nigerian man accused in the attempted bombing met Awlaki while visiting Yemen, and the U.S.-born preacher also had contacts with a U.S. Army psychiatrist who shot dead 13 people at a U.S. Army base in November.

Yemen's foreign minister said earlier this month that Yemen would not hand Awlaki over to Washington, but instead put him on trial if he is arrested.

After the September 11, 2001 attacks, the United States and Yemen joined forces to fight al Qaeda, and Washington has kept a close eye on the impoverished country, which borders the world's top oil exporter Saudi Arabia.

Awlaki, whose father is a former minister in Yemen, travelled to the country in 2004, where he taught at a university before he was arrested and imprisoned in 2006 for suspected links to al Qaeda and involvement in attacks.

He was released in December 2007 because he said he had repented, but he was later charged again on similar counts and went into hiding.

Megawar said he disagreed with Yemen being described as a refuge for al Qaeda.

"Yemen is not a safe haven for terrorists. Yemen has al Qaeda, we recognise that ... but they are spread out in different areas and are scared as a result of the strict crackdown by the government for all their actions", he said.

"Yes, al Qaeda is present in Yemen, al Qaeda is a risk in Yemen, but there is exaggeration by the media," he said.

Last week, a fugitive Saudi Arabian man who was detained for several years at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo until his release in 2006, was named as a senior member of Al Qaeda's Yemen wing, according to a tape by the group.

Megawar said Othman Ahmed al-Ghamdi's appointment as a senior operative was another development in the ongoing fight against militants in Yemen but added, "We have nothing to do with who comes and goes." (Editing by Myra MacDonald)

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