DUBAI (Reuters) - Yemen has arrested 29 suspected al Qaeda members since raiding the group to foil attacks on oil installations and foreign interests including the British embassy, national security chief Ali Mohammad Al-Ansi said.
Al Qaeda’s presence in Yemen has grown over the past year, and Washington has said a Nigerian who tried to bomb a U.S. passenger jet on Christmas Day claimed he got help from al Qaeda militants in the impoverished Arab country.
Ansi said on the defence ministry website that al Qaeda had been planning to attack Yemeni government institutions as well as the UK embassy in Sanaa.
“Until now 29 persons have been arrested and authorities are still following up and pursuing the remaining terrorists,” he said in the remarks published on Monday.
Ansi made no comment on the attempted Christmas Day bombing of the U.S. jet, which has put a spotlight on Yemen.
Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who is charged with trying to blow up a Northwest Airlines plane as it approached Detroit, has been linked to the country.
In U.S. questioning Abdulmutallab claimed al Qaeda operatives in Yemen gave him with an explosive device and trained him on how to detonate it, a U.S. official said.
Yemen has staged two major raids on al Qaeda this month.
Last week, Sanaa said it had killed more than 30 al Qaeda members in an air raid. The dead possibly included the top two leaders of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and an American Muslim preacher linked to a man who shot dead 13 people at a U.S. army base.
The earlier raid on December 17 raid killed about 30 militants in the eastern province of Abyan and in Arhab, northeast of the capital Sanaa, the government said.
The United States and Saudi Arabia, which borders Yemen, fear al Qeada will use instability in the country to stage attacks in the world’s top oil exporting region and beyond.
Apart from al Qaeda, Yemen is also grappling with a Shi’ite revolt in the north and a separatist movement in the south with both complaining of social and economic discrimination, a charge the government denies.
On Monday, the ministry also said 13 senior Houthi rebel commanders, part of the Shi’ite rebellion, had been killed, according to the website.
The conflict in northern Yemen drew in Saudi Arabia last month when the rebels briefly occupied some Saudi territory, prompting Riyadh to launch an offensive against them.