Yemen's defense ministry says that three al-Qaida militants have been captured along the border with Saudi Arabia. Yemeni security officials also say "al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula's" top military commander, Qassem al-Raimi, was killed in a government air raid on Friday, along with five other militants.
The Yemeni defense ministry is reporting on its website Saturday that three al-Qaida militants were captured by government security forces in the north of the country, near Saada province, scene of an ongoing separatist rebellion.
A military official indicated on the 26sep.net website that the three were caught with weapons, explosives and propaganda pamphlets. They were also reportedly wearing military uniforms.
Yemeni TV also gave the names of six other al-Qaida fighters killed Friday in an airstrike by government warplanes on two vehicles in which they were riding. Qassem al-Raimi, who is being called the "military chief of al Qaida" in Yemen was among the dead. Al-Raimi escaped from a Yemeni prison in 2006.
Gregory Johnsen, a Yemen expert at Princeton University, says that the Yemeni government is attempting to show the U.S. that it is capable of combating al Qaida on its own and without Western interference.
"I think that Yemen is trying to prove that it can carry out these sort of attacks and it can keep al-Qaida on the run in the country and that it doesn't need the US to actively intervene in the country," he said.
A group of Yemeni religious leaders said Friday that they would declare a jihad or holy war in the event that foreign troops were to intervene inside Yemen.
Johnsen points out that two of the militants reportedly captured, Saturday, were from the Saada region, given their surnames, and that it seems "a bit strange to find al-Qaida militants from that area." Johnsen adds that it's often difficult to verify what is going on in the far-flung regions of Yemen where the airstrikes and military raids are taking place.
"We saw yesterday with the two cars that were supposedly attacked by the Yemeni airforce, that six individuals were killed, but they've changed who these individuals are a couple of times and they've said 'oh, he escaped, no he was killed,' and in the region where it happened, between Jawf and Saada, it's really hard to get independent verification up there and most of the journalists are packed together in Sanaa, so they're all dependent on the same sources," he said.
Also on Saturday, rebels with the Shi'ite Zaidi sect said they shot down a Saudi military helicopter in Yemen. The rebels, who are also known as Houthis, say the helicopter was approaching the border area of Jebel Dukhan. Saudi Arabian officials have not responded to the shootdown claim.