Al Qaeda wing denies six leaders killed in Yemen
"None of the mujahedeen were killed in that unjust and insidious raid; rather, some brothers were slightly wounded," the Qaeda group said in a statement on jihadist forums, SITE Intelligence Group reported.
The Yemeni government launched a new offensive in late December against the Qaeda branch, which claimed responsibility for the attempted bombing of a US-bound plane on Christmas Day.
Sanaa said on Saturday that AQAP military boss Qassem al-Rimi died in Friday's missile strike, along with Ayed al-Shabwani, Ammar al-Waili, Saleh al-Tais, Egyptian Ibrahim Mohammed Saleh al-Banna and an unidentified sixth person.
There had initially been conflicting reports about the identities of those killed when a Yemeni warplane targeted a three-vehicle convoy in the province of Saada.
"The agent Yemeni government seeks through these pretenses to prove a false victory, which it presents as gifts to (US President Barack) Obama and (British Prime Minister Gordon) Brown and their allies in the London Conference, claiming that it has the capability to eliminate the mujahedeen in the Arabian Peninsula," AQAP said.
Brown is to host an international meeting on fighting extremism in Yemen on January 27, which was called days after Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallah, 23, allegedly tried to blow up a Christmas Day flight from Amsterdam to Detroit.
He is thought to have been trained in Yemen, the ancestral homeland of fugitive Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.
AQAP called on Muslims to "declare jihad against the infidels and their agent helpers, not only on the ground, but in the sea and air as well," noting the presence of foreign warships in the Gulf of Aden, the Arabian Sea and the Red Sea, according to the SITE statement.
"As they declared it to be an open war on the people of Islam, we must declare an open war against the Crusaders and their traitor helpers," Al-Qaeda said.
Yemen is under US pressure to clamp down on Al-Qaeda, and analysts say the government in the impoverished state is keen to show the world it can crush the militants on its own.
Rimi, said to be AQAP's military chief and on a list of most wanted suspects, was among 23 people who escaped from a state security prison in Sanaa in February 2006 that left the Yemeni government red-faced.
Banna, also known as Abu Aymen al-Masri, was said to be an "ideologist" of the group.
Yemen on Saturday also announced the arrest of another three suspected Al-Qaeda members near the border with Saudi Arabia, following the capture earlier this month of three militants believed to be behind threats against Western interests in Sanaa that caused embassies to close for several days.
The government in Sanaa "wants to avoid a foreign military intervention targeting Al-Qaeda," said Adel al-Ahmadi, a Yemeni specialist on the group.
"Yemen is trying to say that it can accomplish the mission on its own, and just needs logistical assistance... and political support to consolidate its regime in the face of local adversaries."
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