By Mark Trevelyan
Saturday, January 2, 2010; A07
LONDON -- The United States will more than double its security assistance to Yemen, officials said Friday, and Britain will host an international meeting this month to seek ways to prevent the poorest Arab nation from becoming an al-Qaeda stronghold.
The announcements highlight mounting Western concern over Yemen after a failed attempt to bomb a U.S. airliner on Christmas; the suspect is a Nigerian man who reportedly told authorities that he received training and equipment in the country, which borders Saudi Arabia.
Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the Yemeni branch of Osama bin Laden's network, has asserted responsibility for the alleged attempt by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to ignite explosives hidden in his underwear as his flight from Amsterdam approached Detroit.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Friday that Yemen poses a regional and global threat as an incubator of terrorism and a potential haven for its perpetrators. Brown's office said he will host a high-level meeting in London on Jan. 28 to discuss ways of countering radicalization in Yemen. The talks will be held parallel to an international conference on Afghanistan the same day.
"The international community must not deny Yemen the support it needs to tackle extremism," Brown said in a statement.
The increase in U.S. backing for Yemen was announced in Baghdad by Gen. David H. Petraeus, head of the U.S. Central Command. Petraeus said at a news conference that the United States gave Yemen about $70 million in security assistance last year, and "that will more than double this coming year."
U.S. officials have said they are looking at ways to expand military and intelligence cooperation with Yemen to escalate a crackdown on al-Qaeda militants there. But a Pentagon spokesman this week described as "grossly exaggerated" a report that Washington is preparing retaliatory strikes after the Detroit plane incident.
Somalia's hard-line Islamist rebel group al-Shabab said Friday that it is ready to send reinforcements across the Gulf of Aden to al-Qaeda in Yemen should the United States carry out strikes.
Compounding the challenge from al-Qaeda, Yemen faces a separatist rebellion in the south and an insurgency by rebels from the minority Shiite Zaidi sect in the north. A Yemeni government source told Reuters on Friday that 11 Shiite rebels, whom he described as "terrorists," had been killed in clashes with the military and security forces.
The northern conflict, which has killed hundreds of people and displaced tens of thousands, drew in Saudi Arabia in November, when rebels staged a cross-border incursion into the world's biggest oil exporter.
The security threats facing Yemen's government have intensified Saudi and Western concern that the country could turn into an al-Qaeda haven and launchpad for attacks. Yemen's foreign minister, Abubaker al-Qirbi, said this week that there could be as many as 300 al-Qaeda militants in his country and that some may be planning attacks on Western targets.