ABU DHABI Islamist websites published an al Qaeda statement on Saturday denying claims by Yemeni President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi about the vast majority of its members in the troubled country being foreigners.
In April, Yemeni troops began an offensive into an expanse of south Yemen, including Abyan and Shabwa provinces, in a campaign to root out al Qaeda militants.
In a speech on April 29, Hadi said that around 70 percent of al Qaeda members in the Yemen were foreigners. The army has since then said that around 500 al Qaeda militants had been killed in its offensive, many of them foreigners.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and its offshoot, Ansar al-Sharia, have hampered the U.S.-allied country's efforts to restore stability since a popular uprising in 2011 that forced a change in government.
Hundreds of people have died in bombings, suicide attacks and raids by the militant group against military and government facilities and foreign nationals.
"We ascertain the wrongfulness of this allegation as the vast majority of fighters are from the sons of the Muslim country who share the fraternity of religion and are rooted in their tribes," the statement by al Qaeda said.
Although the comments were dated April 30, one day after Hadi's speech, the statement was only published on Islamist websites on Saturday.
"If Hadi was being truthful then he would have spoken about the foreigners who do not care about the country's interest ... who are waging drone wars against the Muslims in Yemen," the statement said.
Stability in Yemen, which shares a long border with the world's top oil exporter, Saudi Arabia, became an international concern in recent years after AQAP tried to carry out attacks abroad, including an attempt to blow up a U.S.-bound airliner.
Since 2012, AQAP's main base has been Abyan's mountainous al-Mahfad area, where militants fled after the army, with U.S. help, drove them from towns and areas they had seized during the chaotic uprising against then-President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
(Reporting By Omar Fahmy; Writing By Maha El Dahan; Editing by larry King)