Yemen: 8 suspected al-Qaida militants killed

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SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Yemeni military on Tuesday launched a major offensive targeting al-Qaida hideouts and strongholds, killing at least eight suspected militants, security officials said.

Backed by tanks and heavy weaponry, the military clashed with suspected al-Qaida fighters in the mountain areas of the Mahfad region, the Defense Ministry said. Security officials said eight al-Qaida militants and three security forces were killed. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Last week, the military said their forces killed 60 suspected al-Qaida militants in nearby regions.

The Tuesday assault appeared to renew the U.S. and Yemeni campaign against al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, the terror group's powerful branch in the southern Arabian nation. The United States has been striking al-Qaida positions in the country heavily with drones over the past two years, trying to cripple the group after it was driven out of several southern cities it took over in 2011.

A major 2012 government offensive, aided by the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, drove al-Qaida militants from southern towns but they remained largely mobile and used rugged mountain areas for cover, often with approval from tribal leaders.

Washington ramped up its fight against Yemen's branch of al-Qaida after it launched a series of unsuccessful bomb plots targeting Americans, including an attempt to bring down a U.S.-bound airliner with explosives hidden in a bomber's underwear and another plot to send mail bombs hidden in toner cartridges on planes headed to the U.S.

In remarks Tuesday, Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi claimed that 70 percent of al-Qaida militants are "foreigners ... who don't care if the country gets destroyed."

Hadi, in a televised speech before top government officials, said the country's losses due to terrorism have been "very big," especially because the unrest has prompted gas and oil companies to halt work in the country.

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