DUBAI, (Reuters) – The Yemen-based wing of al Qaeda said on Monday its fighters had survived an air strike last week that Yemeni officials said killed six leaders of the militant group.
Yemen, under pressure to fight a resurgent al Qaeda on its territory, also threatened al Qaeda with more strikes.
“The Yemeni government has been making many false claims … against the Mujahideen leaders in the Arabian Peninsula,” al Qaeda’s Yemen-based wing, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, said in a statement on an Islamist website used by the group. “The latest of these claims is that it killed six of them between the provinces of al-Jawf and Saada. We assure our Muslim nation that none of the Mujahideen were killed in that strike, but some have suffered mild injuries,” it added.
Yemen declared open war on the militant group last week, a day before security officials announced air strikes in northern Yemen killed six al Qaeda leaders. If true, the strikes would have dealt a severe blow to the group but the report could not be independently confirmed.
Yemen, which faces a northern Shi’ite revolt and separatism in the south, came to the forefront of U.S.-led efforts to battle militants after al Qaeda’s Yemen wing said it was behind an attempt on Dec. 25 to bomb a U.S.-bound passenger plane. “These strikes will not be the last so long as the security and stability of the country and its institutions is targeted by terrorist elements,” a Defence Ministry newspaper quoted Interior Minister Muttahar al-Masri as saying.
The “September 26” newspaper said Masri was “threatening al Qaeda with more strikes”.
Friday’s strike on two cars was reported to have killed the Yemeni al Qaeda wing’s military chief Qasim al-Raymi as well as Ayed al-Shabwani, accused of sheltering militants on his farm in Maarib province where their training took place.
Yemen gained a reputation as an al Qaeda haven after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in the United States, and came under the spotlight after crackdowns on the group in Pakistan and Afghanistan raised fears Yemen was becoming a training and recruiting centre for militants.
The death of another militant, Anwar al-Awlaki, who Yemen reported last month might have been killed in an air strike, was never confirmed.
A local government source in Shabwa province later said officials were in talks with tribal sheikhs to try to persuade him to surrender, or be taken by force.