Al Qaeda appeals for help to repel Houthis in central Yemen

DUBAI (Reuters) - Yemen’s local al Qaeda wing appealed for help on Thursday to fend off an offensive by the armed Houthi movement in central Yemen, and accused the United States of coordinating attacks with the Iran-aligned group, according to an online statement.

Residents say tribesmen in Ansar al-Sharia, the local wing of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and other Islamists known as salafists are the main force holding back the Houthis in Qifa in al-Bayda province, where President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s internationally-recognized government has little control.

Ansar al-Sharia referred in the statement on its Telegram channel to repeated air strikes by the United States in recent days. Washington has acknowledged it has stepped up operations against militants in Yemen in the past couple of weeks.

“The Christian Americans have focused their military and spy planes on hitting the Sunni tribes in this front ... the Americans have carried out dozens of night raids in past days against those steadfast at this front in a clear coordination between the Americans and the Houthis,” the statement said.

“Hurry, hurry to reinforce this front before it falls,” it added.

AQAP boasts one of the world’s most feared bomb makers, Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, and it has been a persistent concern to the U.S. government ever since a 2009 attempt to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas Day.

The militant group has also taken advantage of a civil war pitting the Iran-aligned Houthis against the Saudi-backed government of President Hadi to try and widen its control and influence in the impoverished Arabian Peninsula country, one of the poorest in the Middle East.

Reporting by Ali Abdelati, writing by Sami Aboudi, editing by Pritha Sarkar