UK and US agree to fund anti-terrorism unit to tackle Yemen extremists

  • @emilydugan

Gordon Brown and President Barack Obama have agreed to fund a counterterrorism police unit in Yemen to tackle the rising terrorist threat from the country, it was announced in London early today.

The UK and the US have also agreed to increase support for Yemen's coast guard operation. Pirates operating in the waters between Somalia and Yemen have seized four ships in the last week. Downing Street said that, in addition, Brown and Obama will push the UN Security Council to create a larger peacekeeping force for Somalia.

The government unveiled the plans in the wake of the thwarted Christmas Day bombing of a passenger plane bound for Detroit. Downing Street said the government of Yemen had been consulted over the decision to boost the country's coast guard and police operations.

President Barack Obama confirmed yesterdy that the Christmas Day bomb suspect was trained and armed by a Yemeni terror group linked to al-Qa'ida. He vowed that all those involved in the failed Northwest Airlines bomb plot would be "held to account" by the US.

US Homeland Security officials investigating how the former UK student Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab smuggled explosives on to and came close to destroying Flight 253 with 278 people on board have established the plot was masterminded by a group known as "al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula".

"We know that he travelled to Yemen, a country grappling with crushing poverty and deadly insurgencies. It appears that he joined an affiliate of al-Qa'ida, and that this group – al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula – trained him, equipped him with those explosives and directed him to attack that plane headed for America," Mr Obama said in his weekly address yesterday.

Al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula is a militant Islamist group based in Yemen and Saudi Arabia. Its deputy leader is believed to be Said Ali al-Shihri, a former Guantanamo Bay prisoner, released from Saudi custody in 2007.

Mr Obama ordered the investigation into the US intelligence shortcomings that failed to stop the plot, which was unsuccessful only because Abdulmutallab was unable to detonate the device. US investigators have established that after being refused a visa to Britain Abdulmutallab left Nigeria to study for a master's degree in Dubai. It's believed he went toYemen last autumn "to improve his Arabic". According to sources close to his family, they were unaware of his return to Lagos on Christmas Eve before catching a KLM flight to Amsterdam and from there to Detroit.