SAN'A, Yemen – Yemeni security forces arrested three suspected Al Qaeda militants from a cell that the U.S. has said was linked to a plot against the American or other embassies, the Interior Ministry said Wednesday.
The arrests were the latest move in Yemen's U.S.-backed crackdown on Al Qaeda's offshoot here, as Yemeni officials trumpet that they are taking on the militant group.
The U.S. and British embassies closed for two days this week because of threats that Al Qaeda was planning an attack. Other Western embassies also took security precautions, closing to the public or limiting access.
The two missions reopened on Tuesday, after the United States said an assault by Yemeni security forces on an Al Qaeda cell northeast of the capital a day earlier had "addressed" the threat.
In those clashes, Yemeni forces attacked a group of Al Qaeda fighters moving in the mountains in the Arhab region. The troops were aiming to capture Al Qaeda's suspected leader in the area, Mohammed Ahmed al-Hanaq, and a relative Nazeeh al-Hanaq, the ministry said.
They escaped, but two fighters with them were killed and several others were wounded.
On Tuesday, security forces captured three of the wounded militants while they were being treated at a hospital in Reyda, a region northwest of the capital, San'a, the ministry said. Also arrested were four people suspected of transporting the militants to the hospital and hiding them there.
No identities were given for the captured militants.
Yemen's government has increasingly claimed successes against Al Qaeda in recent days, a sign of officials' anger over suggestions the state is too weakened to handle the fight against terrorists as the United States dramatically ramps up its counterterrorism aid to the unstable, impoverished nation.
The embassy closure on Sunday became a case in point, rankling some officials who said it gave the appearance that Yemeni security forces could not protect the facilities.
On Tuesday, as the embassy reopened, the Interior Ministry insisted the fight against Al Qaeda was under control, saying Yemeni forces "have imposed a security cordon around Al Qaeda elements everywhere they are present and...are observing and pursuing them around the clock."
The ministry said it had captured five other militants in recent days around San'a and in the western region of Hodeida. Thousands of troops have been sent to provinces east of the capital where the terror group has set up strongholds in a bid to strengthen government control in the areas.
The government also has carried out a series of U.S.-backed strikes against militant hideouts in the past month.
More broadly, the intensified partnership with the U.S. presents dilemmas for Yemen.
The government is concerned that too public an American role in the anti-terror campaign could embarrass the government, presenting it as weak before a Yemeni public where mistrust of the United States runs high. It also could bring a backlash from Islamic conservatives who are a major pillar of support for President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Moreover, Yemeni officials appear worried American aid will come with pressure on Saleh to reform his rule in this unstable, divided nation.
The government is deeply sensitive over any hint of meddling in its internal affairs. But at the same time, it is being battered by multiple crises and needs assistance.
It has little control outside the capital, and heavily armed tribes hold sway over large parts of the mountainous, impoverished nation. Many tribes are disgruntled with Saleh, and some have allowed Al Qaeda fighters to take refuge. On other fronts, it is battling Shiite rebels in the north and a revived separatist campaign in the once-independent south.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Monday praised Yemeni action but warned that Al Qaeda's offshoot in Yemen has become a global threat. The group is being blamed for planning the Christmas attempt to bomb a U.S. passenger jet.