Yemeni defense minister escapes al-Qaida attack

Photo: Yemeni defense minister escapes al-Qaida attack  / Arab World

Yemeni defense minister escaped an attack by suspected gunmen of the Yemen-based al-Qaida branch in Yemen's southern province of Abyan on Friday afternoon, security officials and witnesses told Xinhua.

The al-Qaida assailants opened fire with automatic gun rifles as defense minister Maj. Gen. Mohammed Nasser Ahmed's convoy passed by on a main road near Mahfad town in Abyan, witnesses said.

At least two military officials in the convoy were injured, a security official said on condition of anonymity, adding the identities of the injured officials were not immediately clear.

An intelligence official in Abyan confirmed the attack and said that Ahmed, who survived two previous assassination attempts on his life in 2011 that killed two of his bodyguards, was unharmed.

However, a tribal chief in Abyan denied the reports saying that "Ahmed's convoy was not targeted or ambushed by gunmen in Abyan."

"The gunfire was fired into the air as a celebration by the tribesmen to receive the defense minister who visited their region, " the tribal chief told Xinhua anonymously by phone.

The Yemeni armed forces backed by mechanized battalions, air force and special forces have killed, wounded and captured dozens of local and foreign suspected al-Qaida militants during the offensive that started two weeks ago.

On Thursday, Yemen's Defense Ministry announced that army troops dislodged scores of al-Qaida militants from their last bastion in the southeastern province of Shabwa after a two-week- long fighting.

Commanders of the Yemen-based al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) have vowed to hit back.

The AQAP, known locally as Ansar al-Sharia, emerged in January 2009. It is considered the most strategic threat to the Yemeni government and neighboring oil-rich Saudi Arabia.

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