SANAA, Yemen — Al-Qaida militants ambushed the Yemeni defense minister's motorcade as it was returning Friday from a visit to strategic areas and a sprawling al-Qaida base recaptured by the army, security and military officials said.
Army and security troops were engaged Friday in fierce clashes with militants atop of a hill overlooking the main road in the southern region of Mahfad.
The officials said the assailants fled, leaving three killed and two wounded who were captured by government troops, who sustained three wounded.
Yemeni forces attacks were reportedly backed by U.S. drone strikes targeting a major al-Qaida base hidden in the remote mountains of Mahfad.
The officials also said troops in an army post in Meyfaa town in Shabwa province killed Friday an al-Qaida militant as he was attempting a suicide attack in in an explosive-laden car.
The army has started to establish fixed military posts and checkpoints in areas recaptured from the militants in Mahfad, Azzan and Meyfaa to prevent them from returning from neighboring mountainous regions to which they have fled.
In the capital Sanaa, the Interior Ministry said two al-Qaida militants from Marib province were killed Thursday night in clashes with security men, but their tribe, which sympathizes with al-Qaida, denied that the two belonged to the group. In retaliation they blew up an oil pipeline in the Marib province and cut off electricity supplies to the capital Sanaa on Friday.
The military and security officials said that some foreign fighters, including Westerners, were among those killed or arrested in the past week's fighting. The Defense Ministry said Friday that a militant from Dagestan called Taymour al-Dagestani was among those killed.
The official SABA news agency quoted an unnamed security official as saying on Friday that two al-Qaida members who are French nationals were arrested Thursday while trying to flee the country from Hadramawt province. It said both are of Tunisian origin.
The officials said at least seven attacks by al-Qaida were foiled over the past few days, including six car bombs mostly targeting military leaders and installations. Only one of the bombs blew up in Shabwa, killing three soldiers.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.