Two French citizens among militants arrested in Yemen

SANAA Fri May 9, 2014 3:47pm EDT

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SANAA (Reuters) - Yemeni security forces have arrested two French citizens believed to be members of an al Qaeda cell in Yemen, an official security source told Reuters on Friday.

The men - identified as Mourad Abdulla Abad and Taha al-Issawi, both French citizens of Tunisian origin - were arrested on Thursday while trying to leave through one of the Yemen's airports, the source said.

Paris confirmed two of its citizens had been arrested.

"France is cooperating closely with the Yemeni authorities in the fight against terrorist activities on its soil," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Western countries fear that further destabilization in Yemen, which faces separatists in the south and unrest in the north, could give more space to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the local branch of the global Islamist movement, to plot attacks on international targets.

Gunmen believed to be linked to al Qaeda attacked Yemen's presidential palace on Friday and tried to kill the defense minister in his car.

Earlier this week, Yemeni forces captured al Qaeda's main stronghold in the south of the country after insurgents blew up the local government compound there and fled.

(Reporting by Mohamed Ghobari, Mohamed Mohamed Mukhashaf in Aden and John Irish in Paris; Writing by Amena Bakr; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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