SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Al-Qaida militants on Thursday attacked an army post southeast of Yemen's capital, Sanaa, killing 11 soldiers and one civilian, security officials said.
The early morning attack took place in the Beehan area in the province of Shabwa, the officials said but provided no other details. Five soldiers were also wounded in the attack, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
The United States considers Yemen's al-Qaida branch — known as Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula — to be the most dangerous affiliate of the global terror network, following a number of attempted attacks on the U.S. homeland that were linked to the Yemen-based group.
The group overran large swaths of territory in southern Yemen in 2011 during an Arab Spring-inspired uprising, but the military has pushed back, and over the past few weeks security forces have stepped up an offensive to drive militants from their strongholds.
Defense Ministry spokesman Col. Saeed al-Faqeeh said Thursday that troops have killed 500 al-Qaida militants and captured another 37 in fighting since late April in the provinces of Shabwa and Abyan, both considered al-Qaida strongholds.
At least 40 soldiers were killed and some 100 were wounded over the same period, said the spokesman. That's not counting Thursday's casualties.
The U.S., which trains Yemen's counterterrorism forces, has launched more than 100 drone strikes against suspected al-Qaida targets in the impoverished country since 2002, according to the New America Foundation, a nonpartisan public policy institute.
Later Thursday, Yemen's top security body, the Supreme Security Committee, announced that an al-Qaida terror cell has been uncovered, implicated in scores of assassinations, killings of diplomats, attacks on security forces and kidnappings, including of foreigners.
The committee said the cell was led by Saleh al-Tays who was killed last month in the U.S.-backed military offensive in the south and who was on the list of Yemen's 25 most wanted terrorists.
Eighteen members of the cell have been arrested, and an unspecified amount of weapons and equipment was confiscated, the committee said.
The cell was behind an assassination attempt on Yemen's defense minister last month and the kidnapping of three foreigners who were released after a million dollar ransom was paid.
It was also implicated in an attempted abduction of foreigners inside a Sanaa barber shop in April, the committee said, a reference to an incident in which two attackers failed to abduct two U.S. Embassy officers.