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U.S.: Yemen arrests 12 Americans

Twelve Americans have been arrested in Yemen, the Obama administration said Monday following a report that dozens of foreigners were rounded up there and accused of links to al-Qaida.
The Sanaa Institute for Arabic Language in Yemen's capital was where Nigerian Omar Farouk Abdulmutallab studied. He is charged with trying to blow up an airliner over Detroit.MOHAMED HUWAIS / AFP - Getty Images
/ Source: NBC News and news services

Twelve Americans have been taken into custody in Yemen, the Obama administration said Monday following a report that dozens of foreigners had been rounded up there and accused of links to al-Qaida.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley revealed the arrests but refused to identify the Americans or say when they were detained and whether they are charged with having ties to al-Qaida or other terrorists.

When pressed on the issue, Crowley said that the United States is "doing our best to help Yemen ... reduce the threat posed by al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula."

Crowley also refused to say whether the U.S. provided any intelligence that helped Yemeni officials find and arrest the Americans.

A Saudi-owned Arab newspaper on Monday reported that Yemen had detained around 50 foreigners accused of links to al-Qaida as it intensified monitoring of Arabic language schools.

Al-Hayat newspaper said that U.S., British, French and Malaysian nationals were among the foreigners detained since a failed December attempt to bomb a U.S.-bound plane. The Nigerian suspect in that case had studied Arabic in Sanaa.

Yemen's Western allies and Saudi Arabia fear al-Qaida is trying to exploit instability in Yemen to use the impoverished country, with domestic conflicts in its north and south, as a base to launch attacks in the region and beyond.

Al-Hayat, citing Yemeni security sources, said one of those arrested was a 24-year-old French man who traveled to Yemen in October from Egypt to study Arabic, even though he was fluent in the language.

Senior Yemeni government officials declined to comment on the report. A Yemeni official had said on Sunday that authorities detained several U.S. and French students on security grounds but made no mention of further detentions.

Yemen, next to top oil exporter Saudi Arabia, has been a Western security concern since a Yemen-based regional al-Qaida arm claimed responsibility for the failed plane bombing.

The Yemeni official said the Westerners he said were being held had been taken into custody at the behest of their own governments, but declined to give details.

North and South Yemen formally united in 1990 but many in the south, where most of impoverished Yemen's oil facilities are located, complain that northerners usurp their resources while discriminating against them.

Yemen's cash-strapped government is almost powerless to meet the needs of demands of most of its people in a heavily armed society that is growing increasingly discontented and where people sometimes take struggles to the street.

In the eastern province of Ma'arib, senior al-Qaida member Hamza al-Dhayani has given himself up to Yemeni authorities, a government official told Reuters on Monday. He was the second al-Qaida figure in Ma'arib to surrender himself in two days.

Dhayyani, charged by Yemeni authorities with recruiting the al-Qaida elements who killed seven Spanish tourists in 2007 by hitting their convoy in Ma'arib with a car bomb, was handed over to Sanaa's security authorities and will be sent to prison.