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U.S., British Embassies In Yemen Close On Al-Qaeda Threat


The U.S. Embassy in the capital Sanaa was attacked in 2008
SANAA (Reuters) -- The United States and Britain closed their embassies in Yemen today over security concerns about possible militant attacks after the failed bombing of a U.S.-bound plane on Christmas Day.

The U.S. Embassy said it had received a threat by Al-Qaeda, which U.S. intelligence agencies believe has a growing presence in the poor Arab country.

A British Foreign Office spokeswoman cited security reasons for the embassy's closure but declined to say if any specific threat had been made.

Yemen has already tightened security on its coastline to stop Islamist militants infiltrating from Somalia and held talks with a U.S. general on strengthening cooperation.

But Foreign Minister Abubakr al-Qirbi said his government was not coordinating strikes against Al-Qaeda with the United States.

Western allies have sought to bolster Yemen's government, which faces facing a Shi'ite rebellion in the north and a separatist movement in the south, for fear that Al-Qaeda might exploit its instability to launch more attacks across the globe.

A Nigerian man, charged with trying to bomb a Detroit-bound passenger plane on Christmas Day, is believed to have received training from the militant group in Yemen.

Al-Qaeda said the attempt was in retaliation for U.S. involvement in Yemen and its military support for the government, which has launched an offensive against the militants.

The U.S. Embassy told its Yemeni staff to stay in their homes today.

"The U.S. Embassy in Sana'a is closed today, January 3, 2010, in response to ongoing threats by Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) to attack American intests in Yemen," a statement on the embassy website said.

In Washington, a senior aide to President Barack Obama said the United States has indications Al-Qaeda was planning an attack against a target in Sanaa.

"We know that Al-Qaeda is out there. We know we have to mind our steps," homeland security and counterterrorism aide John Brennan told CNN.

U.S. officials have said Washington was looking at ways to expand military and intelligence cooperation with Yemen to increase pressure on Al-Qaeda militants in the Arabian Peninsula.

The United States and Britain have agreed to fund a counter-terrorism police unit as part of the effort.

No Agreement On Strikes

Foreign Minister Qirbi, quoted by the state news agency, said Yemen was cooperating with foreign countries in exchanging information and training.

Asked if Yemen had agreed to allow U.S. missiles and aircraft to strike Al-Qaeda targets in Yemen, Qirbi said: "There is no agreement with the United States in this regard."

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown's office said Britain and the United States had agreed to intensify their joint work to tackle "the emerging terrorist threat" from both Yemen and Somalia in the wake of the failed plane attack.

Washington has already increased training, intelligence, and military equipment provided to Yemeni forces, helping them to stage raids against suspected Al- Qaeda hideouts last month.

General David Petraeus, head of the U.S. Central Command, said last week that Washington would more than double its $70 million security assistance to Yemen.

Northern Shi'ite rebels from the Zaidi sect have been fighting government troops in Yemen's mountainous north since 2004, complaining of marginalisation. The conflict has killed hundreds and displaced tens of thousands.

In the mainly Sunni Muslim south, Yemen has also clashed with separatist protesters seeking independence for southern Yemen, which unified with its northern neighbour in 1990 and failed to secede in a 1994 war.