Yemeni troops move near the frontline of fighting with al-Qaida on May 3 in the southeastern province of Shabwa, Yemen. (Yemen Defense Ministry / AP)
SANAA, YEMEN — Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi said Thursday that his country is in an “open war” with al-Qaida as one of the country’s largest offensive against the terror group in south has been pushing militants out of their strongholds.
In a statement aired on state television, Hadi said that the military will expand its operations to include areas other than Shabwa and Abyan, the southern provinces which witnessed a strong al-Qaida presence before the offensive. He said it will include others like Baida and Marib, where al-Qaida militants have been retreating to over the past weeks.
Hadi acknowledged that the offensive has sparked “retaliatory attacks” against the capital, Sanaa, adding that the military must “uproot” the terror group wherever its militants are. He said the offensive was triggered by the “very negative economic impact on the country. It is no longer possible to wait in our places until the day comes and they attack us all.”
As for the revenge attacks in the capital, he said: “We don’t want these assaults to take place again.”
His remarks came as the Interior Ministry announced foiled al-Qaida attacks in the capital and the arrests of suspected foreign militants and potential suicide bombers, including some coming from Syria.
It said some of the foiled attacks targeted government buildings and security institutions, along with foreign embassies.
The U.S. considers Yemen’s al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula as the world’s most dangerous offshoot of the terror group. It is blamed for a number of unsuccessful bomb plots aimed at Americans, including an attempt to bring down a U.S.-bound airliner with explosives hidden in the bomber’s underwear and a second plot to send mail bombs hidden in the toner cartridges on planes headed to the U.S.
The U.S. Embassy in Sanaa shut down its premises last week as a precaution against possible retaliatory attacks by militants. On April 24, two officers at the U.S. Embassy getting haircuts at a Sanaa barbershop killed two suspected al-Qaida gunmen. The New York Times has reported that the Americans were a CIA officer and a lieutenant colonel with the elite Joint Special Operations Command.
During Yemen’s 2011 uprising against longtime President Ali Abdullah Saleh, al-Qaida exploited the security vacuum in the south and took over large areas. In 2012, the military carried an offensive pushing militants out from some of these areas. The U.S. is backing the Yemen offensive with drone strikes.
Yemen’s military continues to battle militants taking shelter inside schools and government buildings in the one-time al-Qaida stronghold of Azzan in Shabwa. The battles came after a day of fierce clashes in the same town forced families to flee.
Late Thursday, Yemen’s Defense Ministry announced soldiers killed a top leader of al-Qaida in Azzan identified as Sadek al-Qoubasi. Yemen has claimed to kill top militants in the past who later turned out to be alive and al-Qoubasi was not a familiar name to analysts and security officials.