Yemen Says It Has Captured Two Dozen Al Qaeda Fighters

VIDEO: Anwar Al-Awlaki Sends New Message to America
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This story has been updated.

The Yemeni government said Wednesday it had captured two-dozen Al Qaeda fighters and a "vital terror headquarters" after laying siege to a village in South Yemen, but made no mention of radical Islamic cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who Yemeni officials had said earlier was among those militants surrounded in the village.

In a statement, the Yemeni government said the military was still "combing the area, searching for militants before declaring the area safe for its residents to return."

Since the weekend, the Yemeni military has been attacking the suspected hideouts of militants in the village of Houta, a battle that the military says began after a failed attack by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) on a pipeline. Thousands of civilians fled their homes in the wake of the fighting.

Yemeni officials said early Tuesday they believed the American-born Awlaki was near the village with a group of suspected al Qaeda militants.

But a Yemeni diplomat who had spoken to military commanders on the scene told ABC News Tuesday afternoon there was no confirmation that Awlaki was at the location.

The capture or death of Awlaki has been considered a "top priority" of the US in the wake of claims he was in contact with the alleged Fort Hood shooter, Major Nidal Hassan, and the man accused of attempting to blow up a US jetliner over Detroit on Christmas Day, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.

The CIA and the US military have been authorized to kill Awlaki, according to US officials. Friday is the deadline for the Obama administration to respond to a lawsuit from the ACLU and the Center for Constitutional Rights regarding the president's authority to carry out "targeted killings" of US citizens. The ACLU and the CCR have filed suit in federal court seeking a declaration that such killings are prohibited by the Constitution and international law "outside of of armed conflict except as a last resort."

President Obama's senior counter-terror adviser, John Brennan, was in Yemen this week for talks about a American military package worth a billion dollars.

The US Embassy said in a statement that Brennan met with President Ali Abdullah Saleh to discuss "economic and humanitarian support for the Yemeni people" and "cooperation against the continuing threat" of al Qaeda, and to express condolences for Yemenis lost in al Qaeda attacks. The statement also said that Brennan had delivered a letter from President Obama on these issues and also "reiterating the United States' support for a unified, stable, democratic and prosperous Yemen."

CLICK HERE TO READ THE FULL STATEMENT

AP: Awlaki Among Men Barricaded In Village

The Associated Press had reported that Awlaki was among 25 to 60 men barricaded in Houta, in Shabwa province.

"The siege will remain until those elements hand themselves in and we manage to uproot terrorist groups from the region," the provincial governor, Ali Hassan al-Ahmadi told the AP.

American officials have come to regard Awlaki, who was born in New Mexico but has lived in Yemen since 2004, as both an important recruiter and operational leader for al Qaeda in Yemen, known as AQAP for al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

In December, according to U.S. officials, Awlaki was at a meeting with leaders of the terror group when the U.S. knowingly launched a cruise missile strike to eliminate the terror leaders. Several people were killed but Awlaki survived.

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