SANAA (Reuters) - Yemeni security forces arrested two al Qaeda militants near the capital Sanaa on Monday, seizing explosives, suicide bomb vests, assassination manuals and lists of targets for attack, security sources said.
Although a third man escaped the raid on a hideout at Jader village, 14 km (9 miles) north of Sanaa, the arrests are likely to be seen as progress in government attempts to stem a spate of killings of security officials by suspected militants.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which is based in Yemen, is seen by U.S. officials as the most dangerous offshoot of the transnational militant network. Yemen’s location next to top oil producer Saudi Arabia and major shipping lanes has made restoring its stability an international priority.
There have been dozens of kidnappings and assassinations of security and military officials by suspected al Qaeda gunmen in the past year, suggesting AQAP remains resilient despite increased U.S. drone strikes and a government military onslaught.
“The cell was planning operations that target national interests ... authorities are seeking to capture the remaining members of the cell that managed to escape and put them on trial,” the security source said.
The hideout contained assassination instruction manuals, lists of targets and clippings of newspaper articles tracking a recent series of assassinations of Yemeni security officers, said a statement from the Yemeni embassy in Washington.
“One of the cell members impersonated a police officer to rent the house four months ago. The cell also used motorbikes for transportation. It is worth noting that assassins riding motorbikes have killed 40 officers and injured dozens in Yemen during 2012,” the embassy statement added.
Most such arrests in recent months have been in the south, where Islamist fighters, emboldened by political instability, gained ground in late 2011 and early 2012 before being driven out in a U.S.-backed military campaign.
Formed in 2009, AQAP has carried suicide attacks on tourists and diplomats together with operations against neighbouring Saudi Arabia and U.S. targets abroad.
Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari; Writing by Amena Bakr and William Maclean; Editing by Andrew Heavens