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Yemen's leader warns of al-Qaida

| Thursday, May 9, 2013, 10:00 p.m.

SANAA, Yemen — The president of Yemen on Thursday warned that the al-Qaida branch in the country was expanding and using assassinations and abductions of foreigners as a way to challenge the central authority.

President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi issued his warning during a closed session of the National Dialogue, which brings political and religious leaders together to decide on the country's system before writing a constitution.

The official SABA news agency said Hadi held an “exceptional” meeting, but offered few details on the president's remarks. However, three people at the session agreed to relay his comments to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

They said Hadi told the participants that Yemen was at a crossroads, and pointed to a “very precarious” security situation in Yemen. One described Hadi's remarks as unusually frank.

The National Dialogue is part of a transfer of power deal that led to the ouster of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh. During a year-long uprising, militant groups affiliated with al-Qaida took advantage of the military's preoccupation with the unrest and took control of large areas of territory in the country's south.

According to the participants, Hadi said that although his government has been going after al-Qaida militants and dealing them some setbacks, “the group is recuperating” and sleeper cells are waiting for the right time to carry out terrorist operations. One of the participants said Hadi told them that he was speaking “honestly” and that the security grip on the country was not as good as it should be. Hadi said that al-Qaida was increasingly using modern technologies to facilitate communications and avoid being tracked.

Hadi said some political activities had been canceled in the south because of security concerns for those would be attending. He said the government had told foreign missions to exercise caution while moving about Sanaa. Foreign missions must get permission before traveling outside the capital.

Two Finns and one Austrian kidnapped in Yemen in December were released on Thursday, according to Finland's Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja.

Meanwhile, al-Qaida militants killed an intelligence officer in southern Lahj province and a day after three Yemeni air force pilots were shot and killed near an air base in the south.

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