x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Yemen strikes kill up to 30 militants, capture 17

Military operations targeting al Qa'eda hideouts and a training camp in separate parts of the country killed up to 30 suspected militants.

A Yemeni army helicopter flies over Arhab in Sana'a province after security forces carried out operations against al Qa'eda suspects.
A Yemeni army helicopter flies over Arhab in Sana'a province after security forces carried out operations against al Qa'eda suspects.

SANA'A // Yemen's government said yesterday that military operations targeting al Qa'eda hideouts and a training camp in separate parts of the country had killed up to 30 suspected militants and led to the arrest of 17 others. The operation was carried out in the early morning and targeted an al Qa'eda training camp in the Abyan village of Al Maajala, some 480km south-east of the capital Sana'a, officials said.

"Between 24 and 30 al Qa'eda militants, including foreigners, were killed while training," the ministry of defence said in a statement yesterday. The statement described the attack as a joint operation involving air force jets and army troops. Local media, however, said most of those killed were civilians, including women and children. "The operation killed 53 including wanted leading figures of al Qa'eda - but most of the casualties are women and children," reported Sahwa, an online newspaper belonging to the opposition Islah party.

The newspaper said among those killed were six senior al Qa'eda militants, including Mohammed al Ambori, Munir al Ambori and Mohammed Saleh al Awlaki, the leader of al Qa'eda in Abyan province, a stronghold of the Salafist jihadis. The website also said four other al Qa'eda militants were injured in the Abyan raid. An eyewitness said the air strike against al Qa'eda suspects in Arhab killed six militants who were hiding in a small tower used for guarding khat farms.

"Two people here used to announce they are with al Qa'eda; they used to stay alone and some outsiders used to come and visit them. The security forces came here in the early morning to collect the dead bodies of six people and found one still alive. They [police] clashed with other people who came from a different village and killed four of them," the eyewitness said, requesting anonymity. According to a government statement, a second operation in Arhab district, 60km to the north-east of Sana'a, killed four would-be suicide bombers who had planned to attack domestic and foreign interests in the country, including foreign schools. While the raids in the capital Sana'a led to the arrest of 13 al Qa'eda militants.

Al Sahwa reported that Aref Mujali, a leading al Qa'eda militant, surrendered to the police in Arhab and his brother Hizam Mujali managed to escape. The government statement pledged that they would continue to hunt down al Qa'eda militants and that the security forces are staying vigilant to thwart possible attacks against innocent civilians, vital state institutions and foreign interests. Al Qa'eda carried out suicide attacks that killed four South Korean tourists in March this year. It also claimed responsibility for killing a Yemeni criminal investigation officer last month in the tribal province of Mareb, which is believed to be the main base for al Qa'eda in Yemen.

Saeed Obaid al Jamhi, a researcher who studies al Qa'eda, said the group is gaining strength in Yemen. "The government is exhausted by the insurgency in the north and the growing secessionist movement in the south; this gives room for al Qa'eda," Mr al Jamhi said. "This operation, which had been expected, is a necessary response to al Qa'eda, which is expanding in Yemen as some militants from Pakistan and Afghanistan have reportedly escaped to Yemen."

Mr al Jamhi said he expects al Qa'eda to retaliate after the latest operations. The government is also facing an armed insurgency in the north where fierce fighting between the army and al Houthi insurgents in the northern province of Sa'ada and the Harf Sufian district of neighbouring Arman province continue. The government launched a massive offensive on August 11 against the rebels who belong to the Zaidi sect, an offshoot of Shia Islam. The rebels have been fighting a sporadic war against Yemen's government since 2004 and have repeatedly accused the Saudi army of backing Yemeni troops. Saudi Arabia joined the battle last month after the Houthis attacked Jebel al Dukhan inside the Saudi border.

In addition to the insurgency in the north, the government is also facing a growing secessionist movement in the south. Southerners complain any partnership after unification in 1990 was destroyed by the 1994 civil war. For the past three years, the southern part of Yemen has seen protests over economic and political marginalisation. malqadhi@thenational.ae