Sanaa: Yemeni officials said on Thursday that security forces have gone on high alert, fearing that al Qaeda members are streaming into the capital, where a Shiite rebel group's demonstrations have turned deadly.
The country's top intelligence officials convened to discuss information about possible al Qaeda attacks, security officials said. Officials fear that Sunni extremists will exploit the state of unrest in the capital Sanaa and attempt to seize government institutions. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
Thousands of supporters of a Shiite rebel group known as the Hawthis have been holding sit-ins demanding the reinstatement of fuel subsidies and the formation of a new government.
The demonstrations turned deadly earlier this week when at least four people were killed when gunfire broke out as police moved to stop protesters from marching on the prime minister's office. Protesters and police traded blame for the violence, which raised the prospect of a wider conflict with the armed group.
The US considers al Qaeda in Yemen to be the most dangerous local branch of the global terror organization because it has been linked to several failed attacks on the U.S. Homeland. Washington has launched drone strikes in support of Yemeni government offensives.
The security officials said that a drone strike today killed four suspected al Qaeda members driving a vehicle in the eastern province of Shabwa. They declined to provide further details.
US drone strikes are common in the country's lawless hinterlands, but in recent days they have been increasingly visible over the capital, causing growing unease among residents. The officials said the increasing drone presence is related to concerns about al Qaeda militants in the capital.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula captured large areas of Yemen in the aftermath of the country's 2011 uprising, which left the security forces in disarray.
In two large offensives, in 2012 and 2014, US-backed Yemeni forces launched assaults on al Qaeda strongholds, driving the extremists into the mountains. Al Qaeda's counter attacks, including suicide bombings, have killed scores of people, mainly soldiers and police.