SANAA, Feb 23 (Reuters) The United States has formally asked Yemen to arrest a prominent hardline Yemeni cleric who is on U S and U N lists of terrorism suspects, state websites said today.
The Web site of Yemen's ruling party, said the request came in a letter from President George W. Bush to his Yemeni counterpart Ali Abdullah Saleh.
It said the letter requested Yemen freeze the assets of Sheikh Abdul-Majid al-Zindani, a leader of a main Islamic opposition party, and ban him from travel.
Yemen has repeatedly said it would not hand over Zindani to the United States, despite its close security cooperation with Washington, unless it was presented with concrete proof.
The United States accuses Zindani, who runs a religious university in Yemen, of being a spiritual mentor to al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and of supporting ''terrorist causes''.
''The American side has presented a formal request to the Yemeni government asking it to arrest Sheikh al-Zindani ... and to freeze his assets and prevent him from travelling abroad,'' the state-run September 26 site said.
It quoted Yemeni sources as saying Sanaa asked Washington to present it with ''clear evidence'' against Zindani.
The Yemeni government has only accused Zindani of preaching violence and militancy at his university.
Late last year, Zindani joined an official Yemeni delegation at a meeting of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference that was held in Saudi Arabia, Almotamar said.
Yemen, bin Laden's ancestral home, has joined the U S-led war on terrorism since the September 11, 2001 attacks. It has cracked down on al Qaeda-linked militants following attacks at home, including the 2000 USS Cole bombing and the 2002 attack on the French supertanker Limburg.
Security officials in the United States and Europe have questioned Yemen's measures against Islamic militants after 23 militants, including 13 al Qaeda convicts, broke out of a jail in the capital Sanaa earlier this month.
The fugitives, who tunnelled their way out of prison, include the leaders of the Cole and Limburg attacks as well as a Yemeni-American wanted by the United States.
Reuters CS RS1344