Warning on Yemen unrest as US updates terror blacklist

WASHINGTON, Jan 4 (AFP) – As western powers closed their embassies in Sanaa and Washington overhauled its terror watch and "no-fly" blacklists, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned that unrest in Yemen threatens global stability.

(File) Yemenis walking under the iconic Yemen Gate leading to the old city of Sanaa (AFP photo)

"The instability in Yemen is a threat to regional stability and even global stability," Clinton told reporters following talks with Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem bin Jabr al-Thani.

"And certainly, we know that this is a difficult set of challenges, but they have to be addressed," Clinton said as the US government grappled with the implications of the attempted jetliner bombing linked to an Al-Qaeda group in Yemen.

She noted that Washington was working closely with its allies to chart "the best way forward" to address the security concerns.

Warnings of a possible Al-Qaeda attack prompted Washington to close its embassy in the Yemeni capital on Sunday. The British and French authorities followed suit, while Japan suspended consular services at its embassy.

The United States will reopen its embassy in Yemen "when the conditions permit," Clinton added, noting security was under constant review.

Long-standing concerns that Yemen has become a haven for Islamic terror groups were thrown into sharp relief when a Nigerian man allegedly trained in Yemen was charged with trying to blow up a jet on December 25.

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, reportedly confessed to being trained by an Al-Qaeda bombmaker in Yemen for the suicide mission on the Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit. Related article: Would-be bomber 'caring'

It was foiled when explosives allegedly sewn into the man's underwear failed to detonate, and passengers jumped on him.

US President Barack Obama has revealed that Abdulmutallab spent time in Yemen during the summer where he was allegedly in contact with Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). AQAP has claimed responsibility for the plot.

Clinton noted that the State Department was reviewing whether to revise procedures that allowed Abdulmutallab to board the Amsterdam-Detroit flight.

The bombing attempt triggered an overhaul of US terror watch blacklists, adding dozens more suspects to "no-fly" lists.

"Probably thousands upon thousands upon thousands of names were scrubbed, and probably dozens were moved to different lists," White House spokesman Bill Burton told reporters on Monday, referring to the lists which determine whether a person is allowed to board a US-bound flight in a foreign airport.

New rules at international airports also went into effect from early Monday, meaning all passengers boarding US-bound flights may now be subjected to random pat downs and baggage searches. Related article: US overhauls terror watch lists

Further boosting security measures, all travelers coming from or via 14 "terror linked" countries will have to undergo compulsory enhanced screening.

Afghanistan, Cuba, Iran, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan and Syria and Yemen are among the 14 countries affected.

With Western pressure growing for Sanaa to tackle AQAP, Yemeni forces shot dead two Al-Qaeda militants Monday in a bid to capture Mohammed al-Hanq, one of the group's most senior leaders, who managed to flee the firefight.

Yemeni Foreign Minister Abu Bakr al-Kurbi rejected any comparison between his country and Afghanistan as an Al-Qaeda haven.

"Yemen is capable of confronting these groups, but it needs international aid to form and train anti-terrorist units as well as economic aid, since the problem also has an economic dimension," Kurbi told reporters during a visit to Doha.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon, meanwhile, voiced support for upcoming international talks on strife-torn Yemen proposed by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown later this month.

Britain has denied accusations that it failed to share information about Abdulmutallab, a graduate of University College London who was put on a watchlist barring him from future entry into Britain in May 2009.

Brown's office said information gathered while he was a student in London between 2005 and 2008 had been passed to US authorities.

As the investigation into the botched bombing continued, Obama prepared to meet Tuesday with intelligence and security chiefs at the White House.

Federal Bureau of Investigation agents were also in Ghana investigating Abdulmutallab's stay where he allegedly bought the ticket for the bomb targeted flight.

Nigerian officials, meanwhile, hit out at the new air travel rules. "It is unfair to discriminate against over 150 million people because of the behavior of one person," Information Minister Dora Akunyili told journalists.

Source: AFP

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