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Yemen: Suspected Al-Qaeda militants target presidential palace, defense minister - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Police troopers stand on a police patrol vehicle stationed under a bridge in Sana'a on May 5, 2014. (Reuters/ Khaled Abdullah)

Police troopers stand on a police patrol vehicle stationed under a bridge in Sana’a on May 5, 2014. (Reuters/ Khaled Abdullah)

Sana’a, Asharq Al-Awsat—Suspected Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) militants attacked the presidential palace in Sana’a on Friday and elsewhere sought to assassinate Yemen’s Defense Minister in Shabwa, in an apparent reprisal for a major military offensive in the south of the country that has recaptured several militant strongholds.

At least five soldiers were killed in the attack on the presidential palace with suspected AQAP fighters exchanging gunfire with palace guards for at least 20 minutes, according to eye-witnesses.

Yemeni military sources informed Asharq Al-Awsat that three of the attackers were killed and that President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi was not in residence at the palace at the time of the attack.

Yemeni police and security forces locked down the capital following the attack, setting up checkpoints at all major city entrances and exits.

Suspected AQAP militants also attacked the convoy of Defense Minister Maj. Gen. Mohammed Nasser Ahmed, who was visiting troops on the frontlines in Yemen’s southern Shabwa province. Islamist militants opened fire on the government convoy, which also contained Military Intelligence chief Ali Hassan Al-Ahmadi and Military Police chief Awad Majwar Al-Awlaki. Nobody was injured in the attack.

The two attacks came as Yemen’s military entered the 12th day of a major offensive in the south of the country seeking to displace AQAP militants. Yemeni authorities on Friday announced the death of what Sana’a described as a “leading AQAP member” Muhammad Saeed Al-Shabwani, adding that the military had been seeking to apprehend him in Sana’a.

“The terrorist Al-Shabwani was one of the most dangerous Al-Qaeda terrorists and one of the group’s leading members who has planned and participated in kidnappings and assassinations in the capital, targeting policemen and a number of foreign nationals,” a security official informed Yemen’s state SABA news agency.

In earlier comments to Asharq Al-Awsat, Yemeni Foreign Minister Dr. Abu Bakr Al-Qirbi said it would take Yemen years to completely eradicate AQAP from the country, adding that this was a war that could not be won through the use of military force alone, but also required broad-ranging reforms, including finding solutions to unemployment and poverty.