Crown Prince Sultan sends message to Yemeni PM on bilateral cooperation

Yemeni army deals painful blows to Houthis in Yemen as FM rejects dialogue with Iran before condemning rebellion

Tension building in Iran, U.S. considers tightened sanctions

Iraq protests Iranian occupation of oil well

Obama says Detroit plane bombing attempt is intelligence failure

Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz, Deputy Premier, Minister of Defense and Aviation and Inspector General, who is also head of the Saudi side in the Saudi-Yemeni coordination council, sent a message to Yemeni Prime Minister Ali Muhammad Mujawwar on preparations for the meetings of the 19th session of the council, scheduled to be held this month.

The message was conveyed by Saudi ambassador in Sana’a Ali bin Muhammad al-Hamdan during a meeting with Yemeni Premier Mujawwar.

Mujawwar praised keenness of the two sides to prepare for the issues subject to discussion during the joint preparatory committee meetings, stressing the key institutional role played by the council in enhancing bilateral ties and serving the joint interests of the two neighboring peoples.

Meanwhile, a man described as "one of al Qaeda's most dangerous members" was arrested in Yemen, the Yemeni military, an embassy official and state-run news agency Saba said.

Mohammed Abdu Saleh al-Haudali, 35, is "one of the most dangerous terrorists wanted by the security forces," according to a Yemeni military Web site, citing a security source.

Al-Haudali was arrested Wednesday in the village of Deer Jaber in the Bajel district, northeast of the Yemeni capital of Sanaa, said Mohammed Albasha, spokesman for the Yemen Embassy in Washington.

Al-Haudali exchanged fire with security forces before his arrest, Saba reported, citing Hodeidah province security officer Abdul-Wahab al-Radhi. However, the Yemeni military site quoted the security source as saying al-Haudali was caught when he attempted to open fire on authorities.

In addition, Albasha told CNN, Mohammed Ali Al-Henk, "a wanted al Qaeda operative," was captured in the Arhab district north of Sanaa.

Yemeni air forces have raided al Qaeda hideouts in Sanaa along with Abyan and Shabwa governorates, killing dozens of al Qaeda suspects, Saba reported. It did not say when the raids took place.

Following the raids, the Interior Ministry told its offices to raise security alerts and tighten defense procedures nationwide in anticipation of operations, Saba said.

The arrests come after a Nigerian man allegedly attempted to detonate an explosive device on a Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit, Michigan, December 25. Yemen-based Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula claimed responsibility for the attack.

Suspect Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab spent time in Yemen, sources have said. His father, Umaru AbdulMutallab, contacted the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria several weeks ago to report his son had "become radicalized," and had gone to Yemen to participate in "some kind of jihad," a family source said.

A federal security bulletin obtained by CNN says the explosives used in the incident were obtained in Yemen.

A U.S. government official said that between August and October, extremists in Yemen were discussing operations and mentioned a person called "the Nigerian." The source said that U.S. intelligence officials also had a partial name for the person: Umar Farouk.

Yemen condemned Tuesday the failed attempt claimed by Al-Qaeda to blow up a US airliner on Christmas Day – after confirming the attacker had been in the Gulf country until earlier this month, according to dpa.

'The government has a plan for fighting al-Qaeda,' said Hassan al-Lawzi, a cabinet spokesman in Sanaa, adding that the country 'would not be a breeding ground for terrorists.'

The suspect in the plot, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, had left Yemen earlier in December after attending Arabic language classes there since early August, the country's foreign ministry confirmed.

'Yemen condemns such terrorist acts targeting the innocent and it reiterates its full support for the fight against terror anywhere on the globe,' the official SABA news agency quoted a foreign ministry official as saying.

Al-Lawzi said Yemen had not received any information on Abdulmutallab in relation to planned terrorist activity.

The University of Wollongong in Dubai, meanwhile said Tuesday that the 23-year- old Nigerian had attended classes there from January until late July.

'He has not come to my attention for any reason whatsoever other than now,' Raymi van der Spek, Vice-President of Administration at the school told Gulf News.

IntelCenter, a private firm that monitors terrorist activity, said al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, took responsibility for the failed plot to blow up Delta/Northwest Airlines Flight 253.

The group warned of more attacks against Americans.

'We will strike you with what you have no previous knowledge of, for as you kill you shall be killed, our vengeance is near,' the statement said.

Abdulmutallab is believed to have received training and the explosives from al-Qaeda in Yemen.

Yemeni security authorities said they were tracing his contacts in the Gulf, and will give the investigation results to the US anti-terrorism agencies.

As Sana’a struggles to control the country, Yemen has been a growing source of concern for US officials as it appears al-Qaeda has gained a foothold there over the past decade and set up bases in the south.

Washington has stepped up its aid to the government and cooperation has increased in the fight against al-Qaeda in the poor Gulf country.

Air strikes in the south of Yemen in the last two weeks have killed over 60 people. The government says they were militants, but regional officials in the affected areas reported civilian casualties as well.

Abyan, one of the areas being targeted by the air strikes, is set to host next year the Gulf Cup, a regional football championship.

Some 29 Islamist militants have also been arrested this month, the Defense Ministry in Sana’a said.

Meanwhile, state media reported that a superior court upheld all verdicts handed down earlier this year in a regional court in the case of four men sentenced in May for plotting to attack tourist sites and the offices of the Red Cross/Red Crescent near the Saudi border.

Prosecutors said the four were linked to al-Qaeda.

In Tehran, Iran’s police chief threatened Wednesday to show "no mercy" in crushing any new opposition protests and said more than 500 demonstrators have been arrested in the wake of this week's deadly clashes.

At least eight people were killed in street violence Sunday, the country's worst unrest since the aftermath of the disputed presidential election on June 12. One of those killed was the nephew of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, who was buried Wednesday in a hastily organized ceremony.

Authorities had taken his body from the hospital earlier in the week in what was seen as an attempt to prevent the funeral from turning into another pro-opposition protest. Mousavi and other family members attended the funeral for Ali Mousavi, the official IRNA news agency reported.

Tens of thousands of hard-liner government supporters turned out for state-sponsored rallies Wednesday to try to show strength against the pro-reform opposition movement. At rallies in the cities of Shiraz, Arak, Qom, Tehran and several others, they chanted "Death to Opponents" of the Islamic establishment. The government gave all civil servants and employees a day off to attend the rallies and organized buses to transport groups of schoolchildren and supporters from outlying rural areas to the protests.

Police Chief Gen. Ismail Ahmadi Moghaddam made a harsh threat to protesters to stay off the streets.

"In dealing with previous protests, police showed leniency. But given that these opponents are seeking to topple (the ruling system), there will be no mercy," Moghaddam said, according to IRNA. "We will take severe action. The era of tolerance is over. Anyone attending such rallies will be crushed."

He said more than 500 protesters who took part in Sunday's demonstrations have been arrested but the number may be higher since hard-line Basij militiamen and intelligence agents may have apprehended more people on their own.

There are increasing fears Mousavi could also be arrested, following detentions a number of prominent activists and the sister of Nobel peace laureate Shirin Ebadi.

The government has also limited the movement of a leading opposition figure, Mahdi Karroubi, by refusing to protect him when he leaves his home.

Karroubi and Mousavi were the two defeated reformist candidates in the disputed June election, which set off the worst unrest in Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Authorities are also tightly restricting media coverage of street rallies, Internet access in the country is sporadic, as are cell phone and text messaging services.

Sunday's deadly protests coincided with Ashoura, the most solemn day of the year for Shiite Muslims. The observance commemorates the 7th-century death in battle of one of Shiite Islam's most beloved saints, and it conveys a message of sacrifice in the face of repression.

Hard-liners are especially furious that some of the protesters insulted Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, casting aside a taboo on personal criticism of the leader.

The government has said the protesters are a tiny minority, and accused the U.S. and Britain of organizing the opposition. The hard-line criticism has become increasingly vocal, with some activists threatening to take the law into their own hands.

The arrests, along with the tough criticism of the U.S. and Britain, added to rising tensions with the West, which is threatening to impose tough new sanctions over Iran's suspect nuclear program and has criticized the violent crackdown on anti-government protesters.

On Wednesday the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay urged the government to keep security forces from using excessive force. She said she was "shocked by the upsurge in deaths, injuries and arrests" and stressed the people have the right to peacefully protest without being beaten and thrown into jail.

In Baghdad, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said in comments aired on last Saturday, a week after Iranian troops took over an oil well in disputed territory that Iran has been violating Iraq's borders since 2006.

"Violations by the Iranians started in 2006," Zebari told MPs in the statement broadcast by the state-funded Al-Iraqiya television channel.

"Technicians used to go to the wells and Iranians annoyed them, opened fire on them, arrested them," he said.

"We have a large number of issues with Iran dating back to 2003, many of them a result of the Iraq-Iran war, such as borders, water, mine fields... The biggest file in the ministry of foreign affairs is the Iran file." On December 18, Iraq's state-owned South Oil Co. said about a dozen Iranian troops and technicians had arrived at the field, taken control of the Well 4 and raised the Iranian flag. They eventually withdrew days later.

The takeover was one of the most serious incidents between the two neighbors since the US-led invasion of 2003 toppled now-executed dictator Saddam Hussein's regime, which fought a devastating 1980-1988 war against Iran.

Many leaders of Shiite parties who were exiled in Iran during the Saddam era are now in power in Baghdad. The two countries share a 1,458-kilometre (910-mile) border.

Meanwhile, in Kaneohe, Hawaii, U.S. President Barack Obama has summoned the heads of U.S. intelligence agencies for a meeting on Tuesday to discuss ways of preventing a repeat of the attempted bombing of a Detroit-bound airliner on December 25.

Seeking to counter criticism of his administration over an intelligence breakdown, Obama on Thursday said he expected to receive assessments from several intelligence agencies Thursday evening and would review them during the weekend.

Obama had ordered an immediate review of what he called "human and systemic failures" that allowed the accused bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a 23-year-old Nigerian with alleged links to Islamic militants, to board the plane in Amsterdam for a transatlantic flight.

"On Tuesday, in Washington, I will meet personally with relevant agency heads to discuss our ongoing reviews as well as security enhancements and intelligence-sharing improvements in our homeland security and counterterrorism operations," Obama said in a statement issued while on vacation in Hawaii.

The preliminary report is expected to detail the intelligence lapses that allowed Abdulmutallab to board the Northwest Airlines flight to Detroit on Christmas Day with what authorities said were explosives sewn into his clothes.

The Nigerian suspect flew from Africa to Amsterdam, where he boarded the Northwest flight to Detroit.

The report will also make recommendations on improving the sharing of information between the United States' 16 intelligence agencies.

The director of national intelligence, Admiral Dennis Blair, said earlier this week that gaps remained despite dramatic improvements in the sharing of information since the September 11, 2001 hijacked plane attacks on the United States.

Obama, a Democrat, is under pressure from opposition Republicans, who fault his administration for not preventing the attack and the president for keeping silent about it for three days while on vacation in Hawaii.

Republicans portrayed Obama as weak on national security even as he campaigned for last year's presidential election, and have sought to push that point before mid-term elections in November, when they will challenge the Democrats' control of both houses of the U.S. Congress.