July 20, 2010 / 9:33 AM / 9 years ago

U.S. cleric warns Yemen could be next Iraq, Afghanistan

DUBAI (Reuters) - A U.S.-born Muslim cleric linked to al Qaeda and wanted dead or alive by Washington warned U.S. President Barack Obama that he risked getting the United States bogged down in Yemen as it was in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Cars drive past pro-unity billboards in Sanaa May 25, 2010. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

The warning by Anwar al-Awlaki was posted on an Islamist website late on Monday, days after the U.S. Treasury blacklisted him as a “specially designated global terrorist,” a move that freezes any assets he may have under U.S. jurisdiction.

The remarks appeared to be a repackaged fuller version of an audio clip initially aired on CNN in March, reissued with Arabic and Russian subtitles, rather than a fresh appearance of Awlaki, who is thought to be in hiding in the south of Yemen.

The U.S. government has stepped up its assistance to Yemen in a recent crackdown on a resurgent Yemen-based al Qaeda wing, and in April authorised operations to capture or kill Awlaki.

“If George W. Bush is remembered as being the president who got America stuck in Afghanistan and Iraq, it’s looking like Obama wants to be remembered as the president who got America stuck in Yemen,” Awlaki said in his message.

“Obama has already started his war on Yemen by the aerial bombings of Abyan and Shabwa,” Awlaki said, referring to two provinces in south Yemen where airstrikes have been carried out against al Qaeda members.

Yemen, next to top oil exporter Saudi Arabia, leapt to the forefront of Western security concerns after a Yemen-based regional al Qaeda wing claimed responsibility for a failed attempt to bomb a U.S.-bound plane in December.

The U.S. Treasury said New Mexico-born Awlaki had helped direct the failed bomb attack and had also facilitated training camps for militants in Yemen.

U.S. officials say Washington plays a supporting role in Yemen by helping its forces track and pinpoint targets, while Washington has downplayed any direct role in strikes, wary of stoking anti-American sentiment and widening al Qaeda’s appeal.

In another message also posted on Monday, Al Qaeda’s No.2 leader Ayman al-Zawahri mocked Obama for voicing confidence over victory in Afghanistan and said Arab government leaders allied to the West were more harmful to the Palestinians than Israel.

Zawahri is thought to be in hiding in mountainous territory close to the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Reporting by Raissa Kasolowsky; Editing by Jon Loades-Carter

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