Yemen - Two suspects may be taken by force

Wednesday, January 30, 2002

SAN'A, Yemen -- Yemen's foreign minister said Tuesday his country had tracked down two key al-Qaida suspects wanted by the United States and was prepared to capture them by force if the pair fails to surrender.

Abubaker Al-Qirbi's comments in a wide-ranging interview with The Associated Press depart from recent statements by Yemeni authorities that the country -- site of the deadly USS Cole bombing -- is free of al-Qaida operatives.

The British-educated Al-Qirbi said Yemen was responding to a U.S. list of suspects that American investigators want to question for alleged links to Osama bin Laden. But the foreign minister appealed for understanding of the difficulties faced by Yemen, a tribal society where large areas are outside the government's full control.

Government forces, Al-Qirbi said, could not just storm into tribal areas to apprehend suspects for fear of turning the powerful tribes against the government.

Al-Qirbi did not say how many names were on the American list, but a U.S. embassy official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said there were 39 Yemenis that Washington wanted to question, some of whom may no longer be in Yemen.

Suspect in Cole bombing

Al-Qirbi said that Yemen had made its own arrests since Sept. 11. He said government forces in an undisclosed location inside Yemen were negotiating the surrender of the two most important men on the U.S. list, whom he identified as Qaed Salim Sunian al-Harethi and Mohammed Hamdi al-Ahdal.

A U.S. source in Washington, who refused to be further identified, said al-Ahdal is a suspect in the Cole bombing and al-Harethi is believed to be a top al-Qaida operative in Yemen.

Later Tuesday, Al-Qirbi told reporters that the Yemeni investigation into the October 2000 Cole bombing has ended and a trial date is expected to be set soon. He did not say when the case was given to prosecutors or predict when they would set a trial date.

He did not say where the men were or how long negotiations for their surrender had been going on.

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