SANA’A: Five guards were killed at Yemen’s presidential palace and a minister survived an ambush attack yesterday, after the government warned Al Qaeda would retaliate for an offensive aimed at crushing it.
President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi was not at the palace located in the capital Sana’a when suspected Al Qaeda gunmen attacked a checkpoint outside the compound manned by guards, killing five of them and capturing others, a security source said.
An exchange of fire broke out and went on for more than 20 minutes, according to other security sources and witnesses, amid reports that three of the assailants were killed.
Also yesterday, Yemen’s defence minister, Mohamed Nasser Ahmad, and two senior security officers escaped unharmed when Al Qaeda militants ambushed their convoy as they returned from a tour of the south where the army is battling the jihadists.
The ambush came hours after the defence minister vowed in a statement to crush Al Qaeda fighters in Yemen, saying their end would come soon.
The army launched a major offensive on April 29 against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) strongholds in three provinces, two in the south and one in the centre, and claims it has inflicted heavy losses on the jihadists.
Sana’a has been on alert for days and tensions rose after the army announced troops had entered Azzan, a jihadist bastion in southern Shabwa province, prompting the closure of the US embassy Thursday.
That night security forces killed Al Qaeda commander Shayef Mohammed Said al-Shabwani, one of the jihadist network’s most wanted leaders suspected of masterminding the abduction of Western diplomats.
He was killed in an gunfight near the presidential palace after resisting arrest at a checkpoint. Another suspect was killed and three more were arrested, two of whom were wounded, a source said. Authorities say Al Qaeda commanders were among dozens of jihadists killed since the army launched its offensive 11 days ago in the south, where US drone strikes this year have killed scores. AQAP is regarded by Washington as Al Qaeda’s most dangerous franchise and has been linked to failed terror plots in the United States.
On Monday the interior ministry warned that “huge losses” in jihadist ranks “will push Al Qaeda to commit hysterical and desperate acts.” State media also said that Yemeni security forces had killed two foreign Al-Qaeda fighters — a Saudi and a Dagestani —and captured two French citizens of Tunisian origin also belonging to the group.
Earlier a bomb in a bus wounded 11 policemen in an eastern district of the capital where the British and Qatari embassies are located, the day after assailants opened fire on guards outside the Saudi diplomatic mission.
In other violence on Friday, the army said six suspected jihadists were killed in clashes in central Baida province.
In Shabwa province, officials said security forces killed an explosives expert from Russia’s Dagestan and a “terrorist” from Saudi Arabia, without saying when. And two French jihadists of Tunisian origin were arrested on Thursday as they tried to flee Yemen from an unidentified airport, Saba said.
Gunmen on Monday killed a Frenchman in Sanaa and wounded another when they opened fire on their car. The pair worked for a private security company that officials said was guarding the European Union delegation.
The jihadists took advantage of an Arab Spring-inspired uprising that forced autocratic president Ali Abdullah Saleh from power to seize large swathes of southern and eastern Yemen.
The army recaptured several major towns in 2012 but has struggled to reassert control in rural areas, despite the backing of militiamen recruited from tribes.
On Wednesday, a State Department spokeswoman said the US embassy in Sanaa would be temporarily closed to the public “due to recent attacks against Western interests in Yemen”.
The embassy closed in August along with other Western missions after US warnings of an Al Qaeda attack. AQAP leader Nasser Al Wuhayshi vowed, in a rare video appearance last month, to attack Western “crusaders” wherever they are.
Al Qaeda uses the term crusaders to refer to Western powers, especially those which have intervened militarily in Muslim countries, such as Britain, France and the United States.AFP