Yemen says has proof Iran backs northern rebels

Sat Dec 12, 2009 12:11pm EST
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By Raissa Kasolowsky

MANAMA (Reuters) - A Yemeni official on Saturday defended claims of Iranian backing for Shi'ite Muslim rebels in north Yemen, fighting the government since August, and also suggested they had ties to Sunni Muslim al Qaeda.

Sanaa has accused religious figures from Shi'ite power Iran of funding the rebels, though has stopped short of accusing the Tehran government, a traditional supporter of Shi'ite causes.

Iran denies any involvement but has encouraged Yemen to end the conflict centered on Saada province through dialogue.

A U.S. official said on Friday that Washington has no independent information that Iran is supporting Yemen's Shi'ite rebels, often termed Houthis after their leaders' family name.

But Ali Mohamed al-Anisi, chairman of Yemen's national security agency and head of the presidential office, said Sanaa has proof of Iran's involvement.

"There are indeed signs, proof of Iranian interference, but we say we can't elaborate on what these indications and their details are to the media," he said on the sidelines of a security conference in Bahrain.

Yemen said in October it had seized a ship carrying weapons destined for the Houthis and detained its Iranian crew. Iran said the report was a fabrication.

Anisi said the boat was Iranian and possibly linked to Eritrea.   Continued...