Yemen army kills 3 Qaeda suspects near capital

Washington regards the jihadists’ Yemen franchise - al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula - as its most dangerous

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Yemeni troops launched a ground assault Sunday against Al-Qaeda suspects who fled an army offensive in the south to a district near the capital, killing three jihadists, sources said.

“Yemen’s anti-terrorism forces carried out a military operation in Arhab,” 35 kilometers from Sanaa, “killing three al-Qaeda militants and arresting four others,” a security official told AFP.

Tribal sources in the region said the army had closed access to Arhab on Sunday as it continued to target militants.

The same sources said that in late 2011, the targeted suspects had fought in Syria, where foreigners have joined the conflict between forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and rebels battling to oust him.

The militants, who included foreigners, returned to Yemen and were in the southern al-Qaeda bastions of Shabwa and Abyan before an army offensive that was launched on April 29 drove them to Arhab, according to the tribal sources.

The army says it has inflicted heavy losses upon al-Qaeda during its latest offensive.

But analysts say the gains may have been the result of a tactical retreat by al-Qaeda in coordination with the tribes.

Washington regards the jihadists’ Yemen franchise - al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula - as its most dangerous and has stepped up drone attacks against AQAP leaders in recent months.

Late on Saturday, Yemeni warplanes launched three air strikes targeting the house of another suspected jihadist also in Arhab, tribal sources said, alleging the militant was also among those who had returned from Syria.

There were casualties, the house was damaged, and two cars were destroyed, the sources said, without giving a toll.

Al-Qaeda exploited the 11-month-long 2011 uprising in Yemen that led to the ouster of veteran autocratic president Ali Abdullah Saleh to seize large swathes of the south and east.

The army recaptured several major towns in 2012 but has struggled to reassert control in rural areas despite recruiting militia allies among the local tribes.

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