SANAA (Reuters) - Yemen’s security forces on Sunday killed a senior al Qaeda leader wanted for attacks on local and foreign targets in Sanaa, the Yemeni government said, after a raid near the capital in which at least four other militants died.
The government said in a statement that two officers also died when anti-terrorism units raided an al Qaeda hideout and a car bomb-making facility in Bayt al-Adhari and Bani Hakam districts, in the Arhab region, and fought a gunbattle with its occupants. Two officers were also wounded.
Security forces also conducted two other separate raids in downtown Sanaa, the statement said, but gave no details.
The raids were part of an escalating campaign against militants responsible for a wave of attacks across the country.
“The forces exchanged fire with the wanted men who were holed up inside a house,” a government official, who asked to remain anonymous, told Reuters. “Five were killed and four were captured.”
The government statement, received by email, said one of the dead militants was Saleh al-Tais, who it said was involved in the January killing of Ahmad Sharafeddin, a delegate at national reconciliation talks representing the Shi‘ite Muslim Houthi group and a former dean of the law faculty at Sanaa University.
One of 25 people listed by the Interior Ministry’s most wanted list, Tais was the operational commander of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Sanaa who had a 5 million riyal ($25,000) bounty for his capture, the statement said.
Tais, who had evaded capture more than once in the past, was involved in a number of major attacks, including an attack on the Yemeni Defense Ministry compound in Sanaa last December and the assault on the Central prison last February, it said.
“Tais was also linked to a number of terrorist operations that targeted national and foreign interests, particularly the cold-blooded assassination campaign targeting security personnel in the Yemeni capital,” it said.
Explosives, car bombs and heavy weapons were found during the raid.
President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi said last month that Yemen was at war with al Qaeda, as the militants have stepped up attacks on government facilities after being driven out of strongholds in southern Shabwa and Abyan provinces.
Yemen has been in turmoil since 2011, when mass protests forced long-ruling president Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down.
As well as the al Qaeda threat, the country faces challenges from separatists in the south and an emboldened Shi‘ite tribal militia trying to cement its control of the northern highlands.
Clashes have repeatedly erupted in the past months between government troops and members of the Houthi group - named after the Shi‘ite tribe of its leaders - as Sanaa struggles to restore nationwide control.
Yemeni troops killed five Houthi members on Sunday in fighting outside the city of Omran in the northern province of the same name, tribal sources and local officials said. Three soldiers were killed.
The fighting followed two days of clashes outside Omran city last week in which a total of 24 from both sides died.
Government forces killed scores of al Qaeda militants last month in a campaign against their strongholds in southern Shabwa and Abyan provinces.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, regarded by the United States as one of the most active wings of the network founded by Osama bin Laden, has responded with a series of hit-and-run attacks across the country.
In the latest attack, dozens of militants in army uniforms hit government buildings and army and police outposts in Seyoun, the second-biggest city in southeastern Hadramout province, early on Saturday. Authorities said 12 soldiers and 15 militants were killed.
The stability of Yemen, which shares a long border with the world’s top oil exporter, Saudi Arabia, is an international concern. The United States has stepped up its support for the government and military, including conducting drone strikes.
Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari; Writing by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Lynne O'Donnell and Eric Walsh