SANAA, Yemen – The Yemeni army arrested an al-Qaida leader following a shoot-out with security forces that killed three soldiers and two civilians, the country's embassy in Washington said.
The clash reflects the challenges Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, a key U.S. ally, faces in battling al-Qaida in the Arab world's poorest country.
Governor Naji bin Ali al-Zayedi of Marib province said Tuesday that the clash began when troops stopped a car at a checkpoint to ask for identification and the passengers opened fire. A firefight ensued, killing three soldiers and two civilians. Nine others were injured.
A statement from the Yemeni embassy said the army arrested Mohammed Abdallah Maouda, an al-Qaida fugitive and member of a terror cell that had targeted and killed Yemeni security personnel. The statement said the shoot-out took place Sunday.
Saleh has become a key U.S. partner in battling al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, the terrorist network's offshoot in Yemen.
The group has several hundred fighters. They have clashed with Saleh's U.S.-backed forces and have been linked to attacks beyond Yemen's borders, including the failed attempt to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner in December 2009.
The U.S. military plans a $75 million training program with Yemen's counterterrorism unit to expand its size and capabilities in the nation's mountainous terrain.
Yemen's weak central government has limited power outside the capital. This month, demonstrators inspired by the uprisings in Tunis and Egypt have been protesting around the country, calling for Saleh's ouster. At least 11 people have been killed in the unrest.