ABU DHABI Islamist websites published an al Qaeda statement on Saturday denying claims by Yemeni President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi that the vast majority of its fighters in the troubled country are 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 around 70 percent of al Qaeda members in Yemen were foreigners. The army has since then said around 500 al Qaeda militants had been killed in its offensive, many of them foreigners. [ID:nL6N0NL55C]
"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. 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.
On Saturday, a senior Yemeni army officer who taught at the police academy was killed when militants shot him in front of his house in Sanaa and fled on a motorbike, the Ministry of Defense said on its website.
Stability in Yemen, which shares a long border with the world's top oil exporter, Saudi Arabia, has become 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; additional reporting by Mohammad Ghobari in Sanaa; Writing By Maha El Dahan; Editing by Larry King and Sophie Hares)