ADEN (Reuters) - The Yemeni branch of al Qaeda said Tuesday it attacked a U.S. intelligence officer after U.S. soldiers were sent to the country, whose new leader has vowed to fight the militant Islamist group.
In a statement posted on an Islamist website, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula said the attack last week came after surveillance showed a rising U.S. military presence in the southern city of Aden.
The Pentagon confirmed the attack but disputed the group’s claim that it succeeded in killing its target. The identify of the person who came under attack has not been made public.
“He was targeted after increasing U.S. activity in Yemen in the light of new political circumstances, and the bringing of a large number of U.S. soldiers to Aden in particular,” it said.
“The Crusader enemy has set foot on your land to kill your sons...to rule your country and steal its riches. We urge you to carry out jihad against the Americans and their agents,” it said, citing a religious edict to ‘fight the American occupiers of Yemen’.
The statement comes two days after an al Qaeda-linked group, Ansar al-Sharia, claimed responsibility for a string of attacks that killed at least 110 Yemeni troops in southern Yemen and dealt a major blow to the “counter-terrorism” campaign Washington wants the country’s new leader to pursue.
Washington backed the election of Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi last month under a deal to ease his predecessor Ali Abdullah Saleh from power after a year of violent political turmoil that saw the Yemeni al Qaeda wing expand its footprint in the south.
The United States has waged a campaign of assassinations by drone strikes in the country, including one last year targeting a U.S. citizen whom U.S. officials later said played a main role in plotting abortive attacks on U.S. targets from Yemen.
A suicide attack claimed by Ansar al-Sharia killed at least 26 people on February 25, hours after Hadi was sworn in pledging to fight al Qaeda in Yemen.
The United States has equipped and trained Yemeni military units - notably ones led by Saleh’s son and nephew - for “counter-terrorism,” though both sides say military cooperation fell off during turmoil surrounding mass anti-Saleh protests.
Reporting by Ahmed Tolba; Writing by Joseph Logan Editing by Maria Golovnina