Somaliland official says al Qaeda suspects arrested

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HARGEISA, Somalia, Sep 22 (Reuters) Ethiopian troops arrested six men believed to be members of al Qaeda during a cross-border operation in the breakaway republic of Somaliland, a senior Somaliland official said today.

There was no immediate word from Addis Ababa, which has sent thousands of soldiers to support an interim government in neighbouring Somalia threatened by Islamist-led insurgents.

The chairman of Somaliland's central region of Togdheer, Abdi Hussein Dere, told reporters Ethiopian forces entered the town of Buholde yesterday and occupied the main police station before arresting six Somalis in four vehicles.

''The cars were on their way to Mogadishu,'' Dere told a news conference. ''After their arrest, I think Ethiopian informers told the troops the arrested men belonged to al Qaeda.'' Somalia's interim administration often accuses foreign jihadists of working with local insurgents in the capital to carry out roadside bombings and assassinations that have targeted the government and its Ethiopian military allies.

In June, the US military launched air strikes on the semi-autonomous region of Puntland, which borders Somaliland.

US officials declined to comment on a CNN report that they were targeting a suspect in the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, which killed 240 people.

The United States also launched air strikes in southern Somalia in January aimed at three top al Qaeda suspects but killed the suspects' allies instead, US officials have said.

REUTERS SBC RN1649

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