Foreign Minister Abu Bakr al-Qurbi told Aljazeera.net on Thursday that Sanaa's former envoy to Syria, Ahmad al-Hasani, was purposely misinforming the media in an effort to help his political asylum bid in Britain.

"There is no truth in his claims that the Yemeni military were involved [in the USS Cole bombing]. Both this government and the US have thoroughly investigated the attack and both reports exonerate the government from any involvement," al-Qurbi said.
 
"Sadly, it seems al-Hasani is desperate to say anything that he believes will get him in with Yemeni opposition groups and help his political asylum application, he added.

Accusation details

Flying into London from Damascus, the former envoy told a news conference on Wednesday that it was "very likely the head of the regime [President Ali Abd Allah Salih] knew in advance of the Cole explosion".

"It (the bombing) was not surprising because al-Qaida elements are at the top in Yemen, in the army and political security forces," he said.

Seventeen US sailors were killed when two assailants on an inflatable raft blew themselves up alongside the Cole in Yemen's southern port of Aden in October 2000.

"I have always worked for reform in Yemen, it seems I'm just getting more media attention since I applied for asylum."

Ahmad al-Hasani,
Ex-Yemeni official

Al-Hasani added that Salih had dispatched his interior minister and political security minister from the northern capital, Sanaa, for Aden at midnight - just hours before the bombing occurred.

Al-Hasani, in command of Yemen's naval forces at the time of the bombing, said he was off duty in his home town just outside the southern port of Aden.

Although he provided no evidence to support the allegations, the former ambassador told Aljazeera.net on Thursday that he had approached the American Cole-bombing investigators several times - but they had not listened.

Assassination attempts

"I don't know why they (the US investigators) refused to listen to me. But it was after I started speaking out about the bombing that the assassination attempts started.

"There were three attempts in total by elements in the security services - one in the port of Hudaida, another while I was driving in my car and the third just outside my place of work.

File photo of October 2000 shows
damage suffered by the vessel

"The last attempt was probably the closest to ending my life."

Al-Hasani added that he had taken up the envoy role in Syria in an effort to avoid further attempts on his life.

The British Home Office was not prepared to comment on his asylum applications or give details about the assassination claim.

But a British Foreign Office spokesman told Aljazeera.net on Thursday that London would be studying al-Hasani's accusations with great interest in the coming days.

Opposition connections

Since leaving his government job in February and his arrival in the UK, the former envoy has also met an opposition group that seeks self-determination for southern Yemen, protesting against alleged discrimination in the region.

In an Arab TV interview on 28 April, al-Hasani said tensions had been worsening between the north and south in Yemen since 1994, when the south attempted to secede.

Several Yemenis have been
convicted in the Cole case

"The land was confiscated, sovereignty was confiscated, the resources were confiscated, the people were driven away from their land," he told Al Arabiya television.

Al-Hasani told Aljazeera.net that he has campaigned for better investment in the south and that this might also be a reason for attempts on his life.

"I have always worked for reform in Yemen, it seems I'm just getting more media attention since I applied for asylum," he said.

The South Democratic Assembly opposition group confirmed that al-Hasani has spoken out against what the group calls Sanaa's "misrule" in the south.

Spokesman Abdo Annaqeeb said al-Hasani "has campaigned from the very beginning ... since 1994".

Fresh clashes

Security forces clashed with rebels loyal to a slain rebel Shia Muslim cleric in northern Yemen on Thursday, security officials said, nearly three weeks after the government declared an end to the fighting that has raged on and off for nearly a year.
 
Troops used heavy artillery and rockets in clashes that erupted a week ago and have continued since, said the officials, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Seven Yemeni soldiers have been
killed in Thursday's clashes

Seven soldiers were killed and five wounded in the clashes, officials in the northern Saadah region said.
 
Helicopter gunships were also used, targeting mountainous hideouts of followers of Hussein Badr Eddin al-Hawthi, who was killed in September.

The latest fighting also killed 13 members of al-Hawthi's group, officials said.
 
Meanwhile, a gunman ambushed Brigadier Ali Jaber al-Ahmar, commander of the First Armoured Battalion, wounding him and killing his bodyguard in Sana, military officials said.

It was not immediately clear whether the attack, which took place Monday, was related to the fighting in the north.
 
The government has accused the father of the slain cleric, Badr Eddin al-Hawthi, of inciting the rebels to violate a cease-fire reached after his son was killed in September
following nearly four months of fighting.