SANAA (Reuters) - Yemen launched a manhunt on Tuesday for a Saudi bomb maker who is a key suspect in an attempt to blow up U.S.-bound cargo planes as the poor Muslim country came under pressure to find those behind the plot.
Yemeni security forces and intelligence were deployed to the provinces of Maarib and Shabwa to find Ibrahim al-Asiri, a Saudi al Qaeda operative who Washington believed was linked to the parcel plot, a security official told Reuters.
"Asiri is believed to be hiding and moving with senior al Qaeda elements such as (Yemen al Qaeda leader) Nasser al-Wahayshi. Security intelligence are still tracking them down to exactly identify their whereabouts," the official said.
"The campaign includes intensive intelligence and military work," he added. A large contingent of security forces had been deployed to parts of the two provinces and were working to seal off some areas.
Maarib and Shabwa are neighbouring provinces known for their impenetrable desert terrain. Shabwa is in central Yemen and borders the Arabian Sea and Maarib lies further west.
The two parcel bombs intercepted last week on cargo planes in Britain and Dubai were believed to be the work of al Qaeda's Yemen-based arm, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, U.S. officials say.
The U.S. administration has not called for a large-scale crackdown in Yemen and political analysts point to the country's weak central government which faces huge economic problems and strong anti-American sentiment among the population which complicate its partnership with Washington.
There are domestic concerns that the plot could be used to justify greater U.S. intervention.
Yemeni police arrested a young student at Sanaa University in connection with the parcel bomb plot but released her the next day, saying she had been the victim of identity theft.
Additional reporting by Mohammed Ghobari; Writing by Raissa Kasolowsky; editing by Andrew Dobbie