A Yemeni air raid against a "terrorist cell" in the south-east of the country has killed two senior al Qa'eda members, the defence ministry said early today. "Our air force carried out a raid on terrorist elements who were planning attacks on vital installations (and) two al Qa'eda leaders were killed," said a statement on the defence ministry's website. It did not specify what installations were being targeted, but said that the air strike happened in Moudia region ? around 480 kilometres south-east of Sa'naa ? which is close to the oil-rich province of Shabwa.
Yemeni authorities have intensified their campaign against the country's al Qa'eda branch after it claimed a botched Christmas Day bid to blow up a US passenger plane over Detroit. Earlier this month, a security official said 11 men were arrested in the capital Sa'naa on suspicion of plotting attacks for al Qa'eda. Al Qa'eda militants have previously targeted Western embassies in the city. Security forces arrested three suspected members of al Qa'eda on February 17 in Marib province, east of the capital and on January 16 the authorities announced the arrest of three other suspected al Qa'eda militants.
The previous day, an air strike killed six al Qa'eda leaders, including the group's top commander in Yemen, Qassem al Rimi, officials said. And two days before that, a Yemeni official said security forces killed Abdullah Mehdar, an al Qa'eda leader in Shabwa province in the east. US Central Command chief General David Petraeus said last month that Yemen is the one part of the Middle East where al Qa'eda remains a growing threat.
"Our assessment is that over the course of the last year or so, al Qa'eda has been diminished in that area," Mr Petraeus said referring to his zone of command stretching from east Africa through the Middle East to Pakistan and Kazakhstan. The United States has reportedly supplied Yemen with intelligence and other support in its operations against al Qa'eda. In January, a group of Yemeni clerics called for a jihad, or a holy war, if the United States undertook direct military intervention.
"If any party insists on aggression, or invades the country, then according to Islam, jihad becomes obligatory," the clerics said. The US president Barack Obama has said he has "no intention" of sending in troops. * AFP