(Corrects after Defence Ministry website clarifies total of 10
* Two drone strikes kill at least 10 suspected militants
* Fifteen more Qaeda-linked rebels killed in army offensive
* Fears of Qaeda rise after U.S. says foils bomb plot
* Bulgarian ambassador escapes kidnapping
By Mohammed Mukhashaf
ADEN, May 12 Two apparent U.S. drone attacks
killed at least 10 suspected al Qaeda-linked militants in Yemen
on Saturday, while Yemeni government forces killed 15 others in
a new offensive against insurgents, local and military officials
U.S. officials said this week they had thwarted a plot by
the Yemen-based al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) to arm
a suicide bomber with a non-metallic device, an upgraded version
of the "underwear bomb" carried onto an airliner on Christmas
AQAP, a regional branch of the militant network, has plotted
overseas attacks that have been prevented but raised major
concern for Washington, which is trying to wipe out suspected
AQAP operatives with drone and missile strikes.
Two air strikes destroyed three vehicles and killed 10
militants in the eastern oil-producing Maarib province and near
the border of the southeastern Shabwa province, the Defence
Ministry website said, without elaborating.
Yemen and Washington do not acknowledge U.S. drone attacks.
Local officials told Reuters the strikes were believed to
have been carried out by U.S. drones and up to 12 militants were
killed, including an Egyptian and two Saudis.
It was the latest in a series of reported drone attacks on
militants in the south of the impoverished Arab country who
exploited mass protests last year against then-President Ali
Abdullah Saleh to seize large swathes of territory, including
Zinjibar, the capital of restive Abyan province.
Last week, the U.S. Defense Department said Washington had
resumed training Yemeni armed forces to bolster the fight
against al Qaeda, after a suspension during the political
upheaval that ousted Saleh.
In a sign of growing lawlessness after more than a year of
unrest, Bulgaria's ambassador to Yemen escaped with minor
injuries on Saturday after masked gunmen opened fire on his car
in the capital and tried to kidnap him, a Western diplomat said.
RESIDENTS TOLD LEAVE BATTLE ZONES
Residents said Yemeni air force planes dropped leaflets on
Saturday urging civilians to leave areas held by militants
targeted by the army offensive, prompting a mass exodus from
parts of Abyan.
Fifteen insurgents as well as five soldiers and an army
officer were killed in fighting on Saturday, a military official
who did not want to be identified told Reuters.
"A force of about 20,000 men is taking part in this
offensive, ordered by President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi to free
the cities of Zinjibar and Jaar," he said. Navy units would also
be used in operations along Abyan's coast on the Gulf of Aden.
Yemen's fractured state and dysfunctional security apparatus
have provided al Qaeda's regional wing with a suitable breeding
ground for bomb plots on Western targets.
But tribal leaders in parts of Yemen where drone attacks
aimed at AQAP have killed civilians say the air strikes are
turning more and more people against the government and the
Yemen's army, which split into two factions during the
uprising that eventually unseated Saleh, has been battling to
get the upper hand against the militants.
In March, the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR warned
that Yemen was facing a new wave of internal displacement as
tens of thousands of civilians fled tribal clashes in the north
and fighting with militants in the south.
Hadi, who had been Saleh's vice-president, was elected
unopposed in February under a U.S.-backed power transition plan
brokered by Yemen's Gulf neighbours to end the political
turmoil. Hadi has vowed to defeat al Qaeda and unify the army.
(Additional reporting by Mohammed Ghobari and Tom Finn in
Sanaa; Writing by Firouz Sedarat; Editing by Mark Heinrich and