AL-Qa'ida is taking advantage of political unrest in Yemen to plot new attacks, the country's foreign minister warned the West last night.
In an interview, Dr Abu Bakr al-Qirbi confirmed that a major town near the vital southern port of Aden had fallen to al-Qa'ida-backed rebel forces, and said the group was expanding its wider operations as the government was destabilised by clashes with protesters.
American intelligence agencies said they believed al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the terrorist group's Yemen-based franchise, was planning an attack on the West.
As Yemen descends into open conflict, Britain joined urgent calls for President Ali Abdullah Saleh to stand down.
AQAP was responsible for attempts to send parcel bombs to the US via Britain and other countries last October, as well as a failed attack on an airliner over Detroit on Christmas Day in 2009.
Yemen's government has lost control of part of all four provinces. Dr al-Qirbi confirmed that the provincial town of Abiyan in Jaar district had fallen to presumed al-Qa'ida-linked forces.
"Obviously the extremists are taking advantage of the political unrest here," he added. "Al-Qa'ida is trying to strengthen its position. This is what we are trying to prevent. But the existing political situation and disruption between the government and the opposition pretty much is an opportunity for AQAP."
US officials said that counter-terrorism activities, in which Yemeni forces were receiving support from American and British forces, have "ground to a halt". They also reiterated concerns that intelligence "chatter" indicated AQAP was discussing a terrorist attack on unknown Western targets.
Jay Carney, the White House spokesman, gave the threat of al-Qa'ida as a reason for Mr Saleh to step down. He has always presented himself as America's bulwark against terrorism in Yemen.
He has promised to stand down at the end of his term of office, but opposition parties want his vice-president to take over. Youth groups have demanded that all senior regime figures quit, including members of Mr Saleh's extensive family.
At least 20 people died in clashes in the cities of Taiz, Hudeida and Sana'a, the capital, on Monday, and at least another three in Sana'a yesterday. (© The Daily Telegraph, London)