SANAA (Reuters) - Yemen, involved in a military offensive against al Qaeda in the south of the country, said security forces in the capital shot dead a militant suspected of killing a French security agent two days before, state news agency Saba reported on Wednesday.
Special forces shot Wael Abdallah Masoud al-Waeli and another man after they resisted arrest Sanaa early on Wednesday, Saba quoted the Interior Ministry as saying. A third member of the group was captured alive.
Yemeni forces are conducting an offensive against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and its local offshoot, Ansar al-Sharia al Qaeda and captured the militants' main stronghold in the south on Tuesday.
Yemeni security sources accuse al Qaeda of conducting assassinations, including the killing of the Frenchman who was working as a security agent for the EU mission in the capital Sanaa on Monday, as a way of deflecting pressure on their fighters in the battlefront. "He (Waeli) was the supervisor behind the killing of the French citizen the day before yesterday," Yemen's supreme security committee said, according to Saba.
Waeli had organised other attacks on Westerners, it said, including the kidnapping of a Dutch couple last year who were released in December after six months in captivity, and was also involved in an attack on the central prison in Sanaa in February that freed at least 19 al Qaeda-linked inmates.
The level of retaliatory attacks against security forces has risen sharply since the start of the army offensive last week. Gunmen shot dead a police officer in the southern province of Lahj, Saba quoted a local official as saying on Wednesday. Ali Haidar Mater, a local official in Lahj, also survived an assassination attempt by gunmen.
The army captured the southern town of al-Mahfad in Abyan province, one of two al Qaeda strongholds, on Tuesday and on Wednesday, the Defence Ministry a number of "terrorists" in Shabwa - the other province where fighting is taking place - had been killed in clashes.
A military source said a militant commander known as Abu Dajana had been killed in the Shabwa fighting. Saba said security forces had also found the body of a militant known as Abu Ayyoub al-Jaza'iri (the Algerian) in Abyan.
Yemeni President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi has said many AQAP fighters in Yemen are foreigners. Yemen has announced the death of an Uzbek militant and a Chechen.
(Additional reporting by Yara Bayoumy in Dubai and Mohammed Mukhashaf in Aden; Writing by Yara Bayoumy and Sami Aboudi; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)