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SANAA, Yemen — Yemen's security forces have detained a U.S. citizen suspected of having links to al-Qaida, a Yemeni official said Wednesday.
Authorities arrested the suspect Monday in a hotel in the southern city of Shabwa, which was an al-Qaida stronghold until a military offensive earlier this year pushed the militants into the surrounding mountains, the official said. The man was carrying two U.S. passports and a German one, and had been shuffling from one mosque to another in the nearby eastern city of Marib before moving on to Shabwa, according to the official.
U.S. Embassy spokesman Louis Fintor said the mission was aware of the report.
"We are aware of the reports and seeking further information from Yemeni authorities regarding the individual's citizenship and identity," he said.
The Yemeni official said security forces transferred the man on Tuesday to the capital, Sanaa, where he was being questioned by intelligence officers. He added that the suspect told officials he had been "spreading religious awareness" in Saudi Arabia before moving to Yemen few months ago.
The official declined to give further details. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.
Yemeni authorities have detained a number of Westerners, Asians, and other foreigners over alleged links to al-Qaida, suspecting that any foreigner who visits cities such as Shabwa that were until recently under the control of al-Qaida-linked militants could have ties to the terrorist network.
Yemen's government has been locked in a fierce battle with the militants, who took advantage of the country's recent political turmoil to seize control of a large swath of territory in the country's south.
The military pushed the militants out of a string of cities and towns in a bloody offensive in June, although al-Qaida-linked fighters have retained training camps in mountainous areas surrounding the cities and have continued to carry out suicide attacks targeting top intelligence, military and security officials in the south.
On Tuesday, Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi was in Shabwa for a series of meetings with tribal leaders.
In video of the meeting aired on state TV, Hadi he urged the tribes to unite with the government in the fight against al-Qaida. He also warned them against providing shelter to militants, saying the government "will not tolerate anyone who helps al-Qaida."
The same day, authorities discovered three decapitated bodies that had been dumped in an open-air market in the eastern province of Marib. Local media reported that CDs found next to the bodies showed the men confessing to being government informants against al-Qaida and placing tracking devices on cars that became targets for U.S. drone strikes. One of the men said he worked for a tire repair shop and used to plant chips in militants' vehicles while replacing their tires.
The killings could deal a blow to the government's efforts to build trust with local tribesmen in the fight against al-Qaida.
Washington, which considers Yemen's al-Qaida branch to be the terror network's most dangerous offshoot, has launched dozens of drone attacks targeting the group's leaders.