by Ahmed Al-Haj, Associated Press
SAN`A, Yemen (AP) - Yemen is holding five of 17 men named in an FBI terrorism alert released this week and has provided the United States with information about them, Yemeni and U.S. officials said.
The five Yemeni nationals, who trained in Afghanistan, were already in custody at the time the list was released on Monday, having been arrested between late last year and early this year, Yemeni officials said Friday.
A police official, who spoke on customary condition of anonymity, would not immediately confirm the names of those being held, nor would he elaborate on when the men were in Afghanistan or when they returned to Yemen.
An official close to Yemeni anti-terrorism investigators said only that Yemeni authorities informed their American counterparts that the five were in Yemeni custody and provided the Americans with information about them.
A sixth man is in custody in a country outside the Middle East, U.S. officials in Washington said Thursday. The six men's pictures and names were removed from the FBI alert. They are:
- Issam Ahmad Dibwan al-Makhlafi
- Ahmad al-Akhader Nasser Albidani
- Bashir Ali Nasser al-Sharari
- Abdulaziz Muhammad Saleh bin Otash
- Shuhour Abdullah Mukbil al-Sabri
- Riyadh Shikawi
Yemen's government admits there may be al-Qaida suspects in the country, but says the network has no military training camps or any other organized presence.
The FBI continues a worldwide manhunt for the 11 others, including the possible ringleader, Fawaz Yahya al-Rabeei, a Yemeni citizen born in 1979 in Saudi Arabia.
A U.S. official said al-Rabeei is believed to have links to al-Qaida but is not believed to have been involved in the attack against the USS Cole in the Yemeni port of Aden in October 2000 that killed 17 U.S. sailors.
On Wednesday, a man related to one of the men on the FBI list accidentally blew himself up with a hand grenade after being cornered by security forces in a suburb of the Yemeni capital of San'a. Officials said Sameer Mohammed Ahmed al-Hada was also a brother-in-law of one of the Sept. 11 hijackers.
On Thursday, a Yemeni Foreign Ministry official who spoke on condition of anonymity said that the number of Yemeni detainees being held at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, had risen to 32 people. The center holds nearly 300 prisoners captured in Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, Iranian authorities arrested a multinational group of some 150 people and are questioning them about possible links to the Taliban or al-Qaida, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported Thursday.
IRNA said those arrested had entered Iran from Pakistan. Many had spent time in Afghanistan at some stage before arriving in Iran, it said.
The report said the information was provided by an unidentified source. The detainees are said to include European and African nationals who were carrying passports from countries such as France, Britain, Belgium, Spain and The Netherlands.
During questioning thus far, the report said, none of the detainees has been connected to either the Taliban or al-Qaida.
The Associated Press was unable to reach Iranian officials for comment.
The State Department had no independent information on the subject, a U.S. official said in Washington, partly because there is no U.S. diplomatic presence in Iran.
CIA Director George J. Tenet said last week that Tehran has failed "to move decisively against al-Qaida members who have relocated to Iran from Afghanistan."
The U.S. administration also has complained that Iran, a neighbor of Afghanistan, has armed and financed fighters to destabilize the government of interim Prime Minister Hamid Karzai.
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Iran has denied those charges.