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Bin Laden’s bodyguard warns of escalation in Yemen

August 27, 2010

Yemeni security man a check point in Abayn province in southern Yemen, after seven Al-Qaeda members were killed in clashes with the army in the area. South Yemen, and the Abyan province in particular, is feared to have become a base for Al-Qaeda militants to regroup, under the network's local franchise Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). –Photo by AFP

SAN’A: A former bodyguard of Osama bin Laden warned of an escalation in fighting between Al-Qaeda and Yemeni authorities and predicted the government would need outside intervention to stay in power.

Nasser Ahmed al-Bahri told the Associated Press late Wednesday that recent attacks by Al-Qaeda in southern Yemen were an indication of its increasing strength.

US officials have said that the CIA now sees Al-Qaeda’s branch in Yemen as a greater threat to the United States than its parent organization hiding out in Pakistan.

‘‘I expect that the confrontations will escalate and will reach an open war between the government and Al-Qaeda fighters,’’ he said, adding that US forces may have to intervene to keep the terror network from triumphing.

The US is already spending tens of millions of dollars to help the Yemeni government fight Al-Qaeda and on Wednesday US officials said the CIA’s deadly Predator drones may be added to the fight.

Jihadists in Saudi Arabia and Yemen united early in 2009 to form Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and the group has already distinguished itself with a number of high profile attacks, including a foiled attempt to blow up an airliner in Detroit on Christmas Day.

The group also regularly attacks Yemeni security forces, even in their fortified bases, and is believed to be holed up in the country’s lawless hinterlands, especially in the disaffected south.

Suspected Al-Qaeda gunmen on motorcycles attacked a military patrol in southern Abyan province Wednesday, killing four soldiers and wounding one. The attack brought to 53 the number of soldiers killed by Al-Qaeda since May.

Also Wednesday, the government announced it had killed 12 militants and retaken control of another southern town after several days of fighting there.

Al-Bahri said the group was concentrating its efforts in southern Yemen because the once independent region remains disaffected from the government and has strong secessionist tendencies.

‘‘The southerners hate the government ... (so Al-Qaeda) is fishing in troubled waters,’’ he said. ‘‘They wanted to instill fear and anxiety in the soldiers and they have succeeded.’’

Al-Bahri added that the Al-Qaeda fighters were successful because of their ‘‘austerity and resolve’’ and could survive on a single meal a day.

Bin Laden’s former bodyguard is believed to have fought in Bosnia, Afghanistan and Somalia. He was jailed for nearly two years without charge after returning from Afghanistan.

He said Al-Qaeda has asked him to rejoin the group along with other former fighters in Yemen, but declined to say if he had accepted.

Like many former Al-Qaeda members who returned to Yemen he signed an agreement with the Yemeni government promising to obey the law. —AP