SANAA, Yemen (AP) -- Yemen's defense minister escaped an assassination attempt Friday when alleged al-Qaida militants ambushed his motorcade as he was visiting strategic areas in the south and a sprawling al-Qaida base recaptured by the army, security and military officials said.
Officials said Mohammed Nasser Ahmed was on his way to check up on forces in the Mahfad region when gunmen opened fire on the convoy.
The attack came as government forces pushed back militants in fighting atop a hill overlooking the region's main road, they added. Troops killed three militants and captured two wounded ones, while sustaining three wounded themselves.
The officials also said troops in an army post in Meyfaa town in Shabwa province killed Friday an al-Qaida militant as he was attempting a suicide attack in an explosive-laden car.
The army has started to establish fixed military posts and checkpoints in areas recaptured from the militants in Mahfad, Azzan and Meyfaa to prevent them from returning from neighboring mountainous regions to which they have fled.
In the capital Sanaa, the Interior Ministry said two al-Qaida militants from Marib province were killed Thursday night in clashes with security men, but their tribe, which sympathizes with al-Qaida, denied that the two belonged to the group. In retaliation they blew up one of the main oil pipelines in Marib province and cut off electricity supplies to the capital on Friday.
Some foreign fighters, including Westerners, were among those killed or arrested in the past week's fighting in the ongoing military campaign against al-Qaida, officials said. The official SABA news agency quoted an unnamed security official as saying on Friday that two al-Qaida members who are French nationals were arrested Thursday while trying to flee the country from Hadramawt province. It said both are of Tunisian origin.
The Defense Ministry said Friday that a militant from Dagestan called Taymour al-Dagestani was among those killed. Officials said Dagestani was a leading militant from al-Qaida, an expert in explosives and suicide attacks. Another Saudi militant, Torki Abdul Rahman, was also killed in recent operations, the ministry added.
Security and military officials said at least seven attacks by al-Qaida were foiled during the fight over the past few days, including six car bombs mostly targeting military leaders and installations. Only one of the bombs blew up in Shabwa, killing three soldiers.
Later on Friday, assailants believed by authorities to belong to al-Qaida attacked a security checkpoint in the capital Sanaa, near the presidential palace, killing at least two policemen.
All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information to journalists.
Washington considers Yemen's al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula the most active branch of the group in the world, and has assisted the government with logistics, training and drone attacks. The militants have fought back, targeting government buildings and security forces.
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