'US, Yemen looking at al-Qaida strike'

US, Yemen looking at al

Yemen said Wednesday it will continue hunting down al-Qaida members and launching military strikes against them until the group's powerful branch in the country is eliminated. Deputy Interior Minister Brig. Gen. Saleh al-Zawari made the pledge at a meeting of senior military officials in Mareb, one of three provinces where al-Qaida militants are believed to have taken shelter. The group's growing presence in the country on the edge of the Arabian Peninsula has drawn attention with the attempted attack on a US airliner on Friday. US investigators say the Nigerian suspect in the attack told them that he received training and instructions from al-Qaida operatives in Yemen Earlier Wednesday, CNN reported that the US and Yemen are looking into a possible attack in Yemen as retaliation for the botched Christmas Day attempt to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner. Al-Qaida in Yemen claims it organized the attack. CNN quoted two unnamed senior US officials on Tuesday, saying that US special operations forces and intelligence agencies and their Yemeni counterparts were working to find specific targets to connect with the plane incident. Also Tuesday, senior US officials told The Associated Press that intelligence authorities were looking at conversations between the suspect in the failed attack and at least one al-Qaida member. The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters, said the conversations were vague or coded, but the intelligence community believes that, in hindsight, the communications may have been referring to the Detroit attack. One official said a link between the suspect's planning and al-Qaida's goals was becoming clearer. The New York Times reported in Wednesday's editions that the government had intelligence from Yemen before Christmas that leaders of a branch of al-Qaida there were talking about "a Nigerian" being prepared for a terrorist attack. The newspaper said the information did not include the name of the Nigerian. US President Barack Obama's homeland security and counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan, is due to present the president with an early report by Thursday, based on recommendations and summaries from across the government. "There were bits of information available within the intelligence community that could have - and should have - been pieced together," Obama said in a brief statement to reporters Tuesday. "Had this critical information been shared, it could have been compiled with other intelligence, and a fuller, clearer picture of the suspect would have emerged," Obama said. "The warning signs would have triggered red flags, and the suspect would have never been allowed to board that plane for America." Senior administration officials said the system to protect US skies was deeply flawed and, even then, the government failed to follow its own directives. They described a breakdown that would have been much worse had 23-year-old Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab been successful; an angry Obama called the situation "totally unacceptable." "It now appears that weeks ago this information was passed to a component of our intelligence community but was not effectively distributed so as to get the suspect, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, on a no-fly list," Obama said. Obama spoke to reporters on both Monday and Tuesday after three days of silence. In a frustrated tone, he chided officials for what he called a "potential catastrophic breach of security." Critics have questioned why Obama didn't talk about the issue publicly sooner.