Official: FBI director Mueller in Yemen for talks

FBI Director Robert Mueller testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 2, 2012, before the House Intelligence Committee hearing on worldwide threats.
AP Photo/Cliff Owen

(AP) SANAA, Yemen - FBI director Robert Mueller held talks on Tuesday with Yemen's new president on the fight against al Qaeda militants in the impoverished Arab nation, a spokesman for the Yemeni leader said.

Yahya al-Arasi said President Abed Rabo Mansour Hadi and Mueller had a 45-minute meeting in the capital Sanaa in which they discussed the battle against al Qaeda, particularly in the southern Abyan province.

Al-Arasi also said the two men discussed political support for Hadi, who took over two months ago from longtime authoritarian leader Ali Abdullah Saleh. Hadi, according to al-Arasi, stressed to Mueller the importance of U.S support for the campaign against al Qaeda.

The FBI is the U.S. government's main domestic law enforcement agency, but it has liaison offices in countries around the world.

Mueller's previously unannounced visit came hours after news that Yemeni government forces fought their way into the center of Zinjibar, Abyan's provincial capital that has been held by al Qaeda since May last year.

The United States says al Qaeda's Yemen branch is the terror network's most dangerous. The U.S. has over the years provided millions of dollars for equipment and training to improve the capabilities of the Yemeni forces.

Report: Al Qaeda in Yemen still a large threat

Al Qaeda militants seized Zinjibar last May when fighters from the terror network's Yemeni branch took advantage of the internal political turmoil in the impoverished nation to capture several cities and towns in the south.

The latest fighting is part of a stepped up efforts by government forces in their fight against al Qaeda. Hadi has vowed to make the fight against the terror network a priority.

In a separate development, Saleh's half brother, air force commander Mohammed Saleh al-Ahmar, finally gave up his command Tuesday and left his office at the military section of the international airport at Sanaa, the capital. Al-Ahmar had previously rejected Hadi's decision to replace him and refused to leave.

Al-Ahmar's dismissal from his longtime command of the air force was part of Hadi's shake-up of the armed forces, weeding out Saleh loyalists and relatives from key posts.

The U.S. ambassador to Yemen, Gerald Feierstein, said over the weekend that the shake-up has helped the fight against al Qaeda.