WASHINGTON – Yemeni security forces killed a local terror “ringleader” behind a spate of attacks targeting westerners in the capital Sana’a, the government said Wednesday.
Yemeni officials said that accused terrorist Wael al-Waeli, who was linked to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), only days ago orchestrated the “assassination of a French national working for the European Union mission in Yemen,” a government statement said.
Yemen’s Counter-terrorism Unit “tracked the cell while it was on the move today and, at 10 AM, engaged their vehicle,” the government said.
Al-Waeli and another militant died and one man traveling with him was captured alive.
Al-Waeli also was behind the abduction of a Dutch couple held captive for six months and what the government said was “the attempt to kidnap two foreign nationals at a local barber shop.” The intended victims that time, however, were American operatives who gunned down the would-be assailants, an American and a Yemeni official told ABC News.
Amid rumors of thwarted attempts to abduct American officials, U.S. diplomats and even special operations forces have been restricted by the Obama administration from leaving the fortress-like confines of their facilities and the U.S. embassy, officials said.
In February, al-Waeli staged a brazen jailbreak that freed almost two-dozen jihadis who later appeared in a high-profile propaganda video released by AQAP last month. That video showed the terror group’s top leader Nadir al-Wahishi at an unusual outdoor gathering calmly welcoming the freed inmates.
The Yemeni statement also said that a German diplomat also narrowly escaped an assassination attempt by al-Waeli’s operatives.
Meanwhile, AQAP released its own video featuring civilians criticizing Yemeni government military operations in Shabwa province and denying the presence of foreign fighters with the group.
The Sana’a government has “declared war” on AQAP in recent weeks and staged raids late last month in which American special operations pilots flew Yemeni-marked Russian-made helicopters containing Yemeni special forces into remote areas to strike an AQAP camp training foreign fighters and at least one convoy of jihadis. Airstrikes in the operation were carried out by the Yemeni air force and likely some armed American drones.
Five more militants were captured in Sana’a late in the day, the Yemeni official said.
[UPDATE May 12: A previous version of this report said the two "foreign nationals" who were targeted for abduction in a Yemeni barbershop were identified as Russian contractors. The New York Times reported May 9 the two were Americans, which was confirmed by ABC News.]