Yemeni security forces killed a suspected al-Qaeda figure and arrested four others in a raid on a house in a remote mountainous province, the region's governor said Wednesday.
Elsewhere in Shabwa province, suspected al-Qaeda fighters ambushed a patrol before dawn Wednesday, killing two members of the security forces and wounding four others, officials said.
The gunmen attacked the security forces' patrol on a winding mountain road at Nakaba, south of the provincial capital Ataq, the security officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to talk to the press.
The violence comes as Yemen has stepped up its operations against al-Qaeda with help from the United States, which has increased funding and training of the Yemeni security forces. Washington says al-Qaeda's offshoot in the Arabian Peninsula country has become a global threat after it allegedly plotted the Christmas Day attempt to bomb a U.S. passenger jet.
Shabwa province is one of several where hundreds of al-Qaeda fighters are believed to have gained refuge, some protected by tribes disenchanted with the central government.
Shabwa's governor, Ali Ahmadi, identified the slain militant as Abdullah Mihzar, a native of the province who was on the list of wanted al-Qaeda figures. Ahmadi told reporters he was killed in a raid on a house Tuesday night.
4 alleged militants arrested
Security forces surrounded the house in the mountainous region of Maysaa, about 380 kilometres southeast of the capital, San'a, and exchanged fire with about 20 militants inside, security officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the press.
During the fighting, Mihzar was killed, four others were arrested, but the rest escaped, the officials said.
In a sign of the sensitivities such operations raise, the tribal chief of the Maysaa area complained about the raid, insisting that Mihzar and the others were not "active members" of al-Qaeda. He warned that the use of force in tribal regions could spark a backlash.
"They were young men who went astray but I don't think they were really members of al-Qaeda," Sheik Atiq Baadha told The Associated Press. "The authorities should have contacted the families and local leaders so we could hand them over. ... We're ready to talk to the government about this.
"If things continue like this, other tribes might become sympathetic with these people" against the government, he said of the raid.
The San'a government has little control over Shabwa and large swaths of Yemen, a mountainous and impoverished nation at the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula.
Powerful, well-armed tribes dominate extensive areas and bitterly resent intrusion by security forces. Young Yemenis who join al-Qaeda — or are simply swayed by Islamic extremist ideology — often get support from their fellow tribesmen.
The security forces have beefed up their presence in some areas, trying to hunt down al-Qaeda suspects. But President Ali Abdullah Saleh has also offered dialogue with militants who put down their arms in a bit to reduce support for the terror group.