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YEMENI authorities round up seven militant Islamists

Updated:

SAN`A, Yemen (AP) _ Yemeni authorities have rounded up seven members of a militant Muslim group, security officials said Tuesday, amid reports that authorities had uncovered a plot against American personnel investigating the attack on the USS Cole.

The arrests began about two weeks ago with the detention of four members of the Aden-Abyan Islamic Army, including an activist who fought in Afghanistan against the Soviets in the 1980s, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.


Three other members of the group were detained four days ago, said the officials. They did not say why the seven men were arrested.

The group is mostly made up of activists who had fought with Saudi exile and suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden against Soviet forces in Afghanistan.

U.S. Ambassador Barbara Bodine declined to comment on the arrests.

The arrests were first reported by The Washington Post and The New York Times, which both cited U.S. officials. ABC and NBC also reported on the news. Some of the reports placed the number of arrests at nine, others at 10.

The Post said nine people were arrested after being found with hand grenades, small arms and documents including a map of the U.S. Embassy in San'a, Yemen's capital.

The suspects were believed to be planning a suicide bombing attack against the embassy, the Times reported. The planned attack was an effort to kill FBI and U.S. Navy investigators, the Times report said.

In Washington, FBI spokesman Bill Carter and State Department spokesman Richard Boucher declined comment on the reports late Monday.

Earlier, FBI and State Department officials said that FBI agents investigating the October bombing of the Cole had been pulled out of the country because of a security threat. The team left Sunday.

``There was a specific and credible threat that called for removal from the country,'' Carter said.

He said the investigators were relocated to a neighboring country. He would not disclose the nature of the threats in Yemen, how many agents were removed or where the team was taken.

President Bush, speaking to reporters before meeting with Secretary of State Colin Powell, refused to talk about the incident. ``Once we finish our investigation, our government would be willing to discuss that,'' he said.

The move follows a June 9 State Department warning of an increased threat of terrorism against Americans and U.S. interests in Yemen. The department authorized non-emergency embassy staff and their families to leave the country and urged Americans to postpone trips to Yemen.

``This increased threat in Yemen is, obviously, of concern to us in terms of our official personnel, but also in terms of traveling Americans and others,'' Boucher said.

The USS Cole was refueling in the Yemeni port of Aden last October when a small harbor skiff pulled alongside it and detonated explosives, killing 17 sailors, injuring 39 others and nearly sinking the ship. Yemeni authorities have arrested more than 30 people in connection with the bombing


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