SANAA (Reuters) - Yemeni forces fought gunbattles in the east with tribesmen and shelled the home of a suspected al Qaeda operative on Wednesday, a government official said, adding that dozens had been wounded on both sides.
The military operation, launched in the Maarib province’s Wadi Abeida, about 200 kilometres from the capital Sanaa, to catch suspected al Qaeda gunmen thought to have been responsible for ambushing a military convoy on Saturday that left a commander and a soldier dead, the official said.
Maarib is home to most of Yemen’s oil fields as well as gunmen believed to belong to a resurgent Yemen-based al Qaeda wing that has been trying to strengthen its foothold in the Arabian peninsula state.
Al Qaeda members, many of whom hail from local tribes, have forged links with tribesmen in efforts to establish a support base in Yemen, where government control is weak in many areas outside Sanaa.
The official said Yemeni forces had shelled the home of Saleh Areydan, a suspected al Qaeda operative believed to have killed Yemeni military brigade leader Mohamed Saleh al-Shaief.
Residents in the area, however, said the shelled home belonged to a different al Qaeda suspect, Hassan al-Aqili, also wanted over the officer’s death.
Al Qaeda’s Yemen wing jumped to the forefront of Western security concerns after claiming responsibility for a botched attempt to bomb a U.S.-bound plane in December. Earlier this year, Yemen declared war on the global militant group.
Impoverished Yemen, located next to top oil exporter Saudi Arabia and a major shipping lane, also faces growing unrest from southern separatists and is trying to cement a fragile truce with northern Shi’ite rebels.
Two weeks ago a Yemeni mediator who was also Maarib’s deputy governor died in an errant airstrike targeting al Qaeda, prompting protests and clashes between his kinsmen and security forces.
Writing by Erika Solomon; editing by Matthew Jones
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