Yemen arrests two French al Qaeda suspects
Yemen has detained two Frenchmen with suspected links to al Qaeda for questioning, a top security official said Saturday.
"During the past two days, two French nationals accused of belonging to al Qaeda have been arrested," said national security service chief General Mohammed al-Ahmadi.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) claimed responsibility for a January 7 assault on French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo in which two Frenchmen, brothers Chérif and Said Kouachi, killed 12 people.
"There are around 1,000 al Qaeda militants in Yemen from 11 Arab and non-Arab countries," Ahmadi told reporters in Sanaa.
Washington regards the Yemen-based franchise as the network's most dangerous branch and has carried out a sustained drone war against its leaders.
AQAP said the orders to carry out last week's attack had come from the very top of the global jihadist network – Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Egyptian doctor who succeeded al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden after his death in 2011.
Chérif Kouachi told French media before he was killed by police that a trip he made to Yemen the same year was financed by Anwar al-Awlak, a US-Yemeni cleric killed by a US drone strike in 2011.
AQAP has a record of launching attacks far from its base, including a bid to blow up a US airliner over Michigan on Christmas Day in 2009.
It recently called on its supporters to carry out attacks in France, which is part of a US-led coalition conducting air strikes against jihadists from the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria.
AQAP's English-language propaganda magazine "Inspire" has urged jihadists to wage "lone wolf" attacks abroad.
AQAP took advantage of an uprising in 2011 against now-ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh and seized large swathes of territory across southern Yemen, although most of its militants later fled to the east.
Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morningSubscribe