MARIB, Yemen – Yemen will not tolerate any form of terrorism on its territory and will strike offenders with an "iron fist," Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh said Thursday.
During a tour of eastern Yemen, he also said that two suspects wanted by the United States in the October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen must turn themselves in.
"They are innocent until proven guilty and they will be questioned and a court of law will issue its decision," Saleh said.
He said the two men — Qaed Salim Sunian al-Harethi and Mohammed Hamdi al-Ahdal — will not be surrendered to the United States, adding his country has asked Washington to hand over the Yemenis being held by the U.S. military at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The president warned his government will deal harshly with anyone involved in terror attacks.
"We will strike with an iron fist anyone who is involved in terrorism. We will not tolerate kidnappings and bombings," he said after meeting with tribes in Marib and Shabwa provinces.
Security officials said a manhunt was continuing for al-Harethi and al-Ahdal. The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the two were in rugged, mountainous areas and accompanied by at least 10 armed men.
The government has said it is negotiating with tribes that may be sheltering the two suspects, but that it will use force if they are not turned over peacefully.
The United States blames Usama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network for the Sept. 11 attacks as well as the bombing that killed 17 Americans on the destroyer that was refueling in Yemen's port of Aden.
Bin Laden has substantial support in Yemen and Saudi Arabia, and Al Qaeda is believed to exist in dozens of countries worldwide. Yemeni officials have said that 32 Yemenis are among some 300 Al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners being held in Guantanamo Bay.
Well-armed tribal fiefdoms have made it difficult for the Yemeni government to impose the rule of law in Marib. Since 1990, about 100 foreigners have been kidnapped here. The 5,000-strong Abida tribe is the largest in the province.
U.S. officials have pressured the Yemeni government to crack down on Al Qaeda cells in Yemen.
Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of the war in Afghanistan, told American lawmakers Wednesday that he expects to recommend that the U.S. military help train Yemeni forces to pursue Al Qaeda and other terrorists. Yemen has pledged itself to help fight global terror but has not requested U.S. combat troops. It is interested, however, in military training and aid to create a maritime force to guard its 1,500-mile Arabian Peninsula coastline.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Thursday that President Bush told Saleh in a November meeting that the United States would help Yemen with security. "President Saleh has been strong in his determination to fight terrorism, and the president welcomes President Saleh's efforts," Fleischer said.