SANA'A // Yemen will pursue al Qa'eda militants until they surrender, the government said yesterday, in response to the group's threats to retaliate against deadly attacks carried out by the country's security forces this month. The government claims it has killed dozens of al Qa'eda operatives in ground and air operations in the past two weeks and thwarted planned terrorist attacks as it seeks to avoid becoming a "safe haven" for the organisation.
"There is no leniency with terrorism and in the crackdown on terrorists, arresting them and bringing them to justice," an unidentified security official said on the defence ministry's website. "Men are watching them and anybody thinking of messing with the security and stability of the country - many more operations are awaiting terrorists and their strongholds." Al Qa'eda in the Arabian Peninsula, which involves militants from Yemen and Saudi Arabia after they merged in January this year, said it would take revenge over the raids against the group in different parts of the country. In a statement dated December 20 but which only appeared on Islamist websites on Sunday, the group said the raids were carried out by five US warplanes and killed about 50 men, women and children.
"We will not let Muslim women and children's blood be spilled without taking revenge," the statement said, adding that coordination of the attacks involved the United States, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Egypt. The security official ridiculed the al Qa'eda threats and said: "Yemen is a land of peace and safety and will never be a resort for those terrorist killers - they will be hunted down until Yemen is cleansed of their evils."
Yemen, which is facing an insurgency from al Houthi rebels in the north and a growing secessionist movement in the south, said on December 17 it had launched military raids against al Qa'eda training camps in the Abyan village of al Maajala, 480km south-east of Sana'a, and in Arhab district, 60km to the north-east of the capital. Government officials said as many as 34 suspected militants, including four would-be suicide bombers hiding in Arhab, were killed and that 29 others were arrested. Local sources said the raid in Abyan killed more than 60 civilians, mainly women and children, which sparked angry protests in the south.
The al Qa'eda statement was dated before renewed attacks on Thursday, in which the government said its forces killed more than 30 suspected militants in a dawn raid in a remote mountainous region of Shabwa province, about 650km east of Sana'a. However, local sources said the strike killed only five. According to government officials, the strikes thwarted terrorist plots against targets including the British Embassy, foreign schools and military leaders.
In addition to Abyan and Shabwa, al Qa'eda is present in the central tribal province of Mareb and is believed to have strengthened its base there by recruiting tribesmen. Mohammed Saif Haidar, a Yemeni researcher who follows al Qa'eda issues, said the pre-emptive strikes demonstrate a radical change in anti-terrorism policy in Yemen. "These strikes are a signal of a drastic change in the policy of the war on terrorism in Yemen. These strikes show that the Yemeni and US governments have reorganised their priorities in their fight on al Qa'eda," Mr Haidar said.