Five Yemeni guards killed near presidential palace
SANAA // Suspected Al Qaeda gunmen killed five guards and captured others on Friday in an attack on a checkpoint outside the Yemeni presidential palace.
The assault capped a day of heavy violence in the country during which Yemen’s defence minister escape assassination just hours after government forces killed an Al Qaeda commander suspected of masterminding a wave of kidnap attempts targeting diplomats.
A security source said the president, Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi, was not at the palace at the time of the attack. Witnesses said the gun battle lasted for more than 20 minutes.
The attack came amid high tensions in the capital Sanaa, where a bombing wounded 11 police officers hours after security forces killed the Al Qaeda commander.
The defence minister, Mohammed Nasser Ahmad, and two senior security officers escaped unhurt when their convoy was ambushed by fighters in the south.
Mr Ahmad, the intelligence chief, Ali Hassan Al Ahmadi, and the military police chief, Awad Majwar Al Awlaqi, were travelling from Abyan province to Shabwa province, when they came under fire.
A security source said none of the top brass was hurt in the attack that came as they were returning from a trip to monitor an army offensive against Al Qaeda in Yemen’s restive south.
Clashes erupted after the ambush and lasted 15 minutes.
Al Qaeda blames the defence minister for leading a campaign that drove it from strongholds in southern Yemen, an area that Washington considers one of the main battlefields in its global campaign against militants.
The defence minister had faced at least five assassination attempts since December 2011, when Yemen’s new government was formed after a power-transfer deal under which Ali Abdullah Saleh, the long-ruling president, stepped down.
The attack came after a night-time operation in the capital, in which security forces killed a man who they say planned a series of attempts to kidnap western diplomats. That operation came amid a security alert in Sanaa that prompted the closure of the US embassy on Thursday as troops backed by US drones pressed an offensive in the south.
Shayef Mohammed Said Al Shabwani was “one of Al Qaeda’s most dangerous and wanted commanders ... suspected of involvement in abductions and killings of Yemeni police and foreigners”, said a Yemeni military spokesman.
Al Shabwani was stopped in a car close to the presidential palace with four other people, one of whom was also killed in an exchange of fire when they resisted arrest.
The other three were arrested, two of them wounded.
Security forces have been on high alert in Sanaa since the army launched a highly publicised offensive against Al Qaeda in its southern strongholds late last month, drawing open threats of retaliation.
Late Thursday, unidentified assailants opened fire on guards outside the Saudi Arabian embassy without hitting anyone. The culprits escaped after the drive-by shooting.
* Agence France-Presse with additional reporting by Reuters
Updated: May 9, 2014 04:00 AM