SANAA // Yemen's Al Qaeda offshoot yesterday released 73 soldiers who had been captured by its fighters during battles with government forces.
Human-rights activists said the release comes after three days of mediation by tribal elders and clerics who convinced the militants - known locally as "Ansar Al Sharia" or Partisans of Islamic Law - to set the soldiers free. The militants had threatened to execute them.
The soldiers were freed in the city of Jaar in the province of Abyan in a ceremony attended by top leaders of Al Qaeda in Yemen, including Qasim Al Raimi, the military leader, said Musa Al Namrani, a human-rights activist who attended the event.
The soldiers were captured in early March during an offensive on the city of Zinjibar in which more than 150 other soldiers were killed.
Negotiators said the release took place after the mediators asked government authorities to halt army attacks on the city, which the militants seized last year and is now one of their primary strongholds.
The militants said in a statement late on Saturday that Nasser Al Wuhayshi, the leader of Al Qaeda in Yemen, had authorised the soldiers' release after negotiations with tribal elders and clerics who visited Jaar.
The soldiers pledged in writing not to fight against Al Qaeda again. They were seen leaving in a lorry and private cars for the city of Aden.
Meanwhile, at least three Al Qaeda militants were killed yesterday in a suspected US drone strike on their vehicle in the northern province of Al Jawf, said local officials and residents.