Yemen minister escapes Qaeda ambush after vow to crush jihadists

Yemen`s defence minister and two senior security officers escaped unhurt when their convoy was ambushed Friday by Al-Qaeda militants in the south, as troops pressed an offensive against the jihadists in the region.

AFP| Last Updated: May 09, 2014, 20:30 PM IST

Aden: Yemen`s defence minister and two senior security officers escaped unhurt when their convoy was ambushed Friday by Al-Qaeda militants in the south, as troops pressed an offensive against the jihadists in the region.

The attack came amid high tensions in the capital Sanaa, where a bombing wounded 11 police officers hours after security forces killed an Al-Qaeda commander.

The army launched a major offensive on April 29 against Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) strongholds in three provinces in the south, and claims it has inflicted heavy losses on the jihadists.

Defence Minister Mohamed Nasser Ahmad, intelligence chief Ali Hassan al-Ahmadi and military police chief Awad Majwar al-Awlaqi were travelling from Abyan province to Shabwa province when they came under fire, a military source said.

They had just carried out a tour to monitor the military`s offensive when they were ambushed, but none were hurt in the attack or in subsequent clashes that lasted 15 minutes, the source said.

It was not immediately clear if there had been any casualties among the attackers.

The defence minister, in a statement published earlier Friday, vowed to crush Al-Qaeda fighters in Yemen, saying their end will come soon.

Sanaa has been on alert for days and tensions rose after the army announced troops had entered Azzan, a major AQAP bastion in Shabwa, prompting the closure on Thursday of the US embassy.

That night security forces killed Al-Qaeda commander Shayef Mohammed Said al-Shabwani, who was suspected of masterminding the abduction of Western diplomats.

Shabwani was "one of Al-Qaeda`s most dangerous and wanted commanders," a security forces spokesman said, adding he was also involved in killing Yemeni policemen.

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, the source said.

Early Friday, a bomb in a bus wounded 11 policemen in an eastern district of the city where the British and Qatari embassies are located.

And late on Thurday, unidentified assailants opened fire on guards outside the Saudi embassy without hitting anyone, another security source said. The gunmen escaped after the drive-by shooting.

The army meanwhile reported six suspected jihadists were killed in clashes Friday in Baida province, as troops pressed ahead with their "successful" operation.Authorities say several Al-Qaeda commanders were among dozens of jihadists killed since the army launched its offensive 11 days ago in the southern provinces, where US drone strikes this year have killed scores.

AQAP, a merger of the network`s Yemeni and Saudi branches, is regarded by Washington as Al-Qaeda`s most dangerous franchise and has been linked to several failed terror plots in the United States.

The jihadists took advantage of an Arab Spring-inspired uprising that forced veteran strongman 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 local tribes.

On Monday the interior ministry warned that "huge losses" in jihadist ranks "will push Al-Qaeda to commit hysterical and desperate acts."

On Wednesday, US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the American embassy in Sanaa would be temporarily closed to the public "due to recent attacks against Western interests in Yemen."

These attacks "and information we have received have given us enough concern to take this precautionary step", she said in a statement.

The embassy closed in August along with other Western missions after US warnings of an Al-Qaeda attack.

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.
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.