Yemen arrests two French Al-Qaeda suspects

AQAP has claimed responsibility for a Jan. 7 assault on French satirical Charlie Hebdo

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Yemen has detained two Frenchmen for questioning over suspected links to Al-Qaeda, a top security official said Saturday.

“During the past two days, two French nationals accused of belonging to Al-Qaeda have been arrested,” said national security service chief General Mohammad al-Ahmadi.

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) claimed responsibility for a Jan. 7 assault on French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo in which two Frenchmen killed 12 people.

The perpetrators, brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi, are known to have trained with Al-Qaeda in Yemen.

“There are around 1,000 Al-Qaeda militants in Yemen from 11 Arab and non-Arab countries,” Ahmadi told reporters in Sanaa.

Washington regards the Yemen-based franchise as the network’s most dangerous branch and has carried out a sustained drone war against its leaders.

AQAP said the orders to carry out last week’s attack had come from the very top of the global jihadist network - Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Egyptian doctor who succeeded Al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden after his death in 2011.

Cherif Kouachi told French media before he was killed by police that a trip he made to Yemen the same year was financed by Anwar al-Awlak, a U.S.-Yemeni cleric killed by a U.S. drone strike in 2011.

AQAP has a record of launching attacks far from its base, including a bid to blow up a U.S. airliner over Michigan on Christmas Day in 2009.

It recently called on its supporters to carry out attacks in France, which is part of a U.S.-led coalition conducting air strikes against jihadists from the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria.

AQAP’s English-language propaganda magazine “Inspire” has urged jihadists to wage “lone wolf” attacks abroad.

AQAP took advantage of an uprising in 2011 against now-ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh and seized large swathes of territory across southern Yemen, although most of its militants later fled to the east.