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300 families flee military campaign targeting al Qaeda in Yemen

From Mohammed Jamjoom, CNN
  • NEW: At least 300 families flee violence in Yemen
  • Ground and air campaigns began Saturday
  • At least 6 al Qaeda militants have been killed
  • Western embassies are on high security alert

(CNN) -- A military campaign targeting al Qaeda has spurred at least 300 families to flee their homes in southern Yemen, journalists in the Middle Eastern nation told CNN on Monday.

Yemeni security forces began airstrikes and a ground campaign Saturday against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, an arm of Osama bin Laden's broader terrorist organization that came to light last year, a government official said during the weekend.

"Yemen's security forces have been in engaged in a ground and air campaign for two days in Abyan province against al Qaeda," said the official, who is not authorized to speak to the press about the campaign. "This is no doubt in retaliation to an attempt by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to kill the governor and junior regional security officials this past week."

Some residents in the Moudeya district of Abyan province fled their homes because of the violence, provincial officials told local journalists.

At least six militants have been killed, the official said, as the airstrikes targeted militant gatherings in the province's Lawdar as well as the Moudeya districts. The battle has been fierce and bloody and is part of a larger low-intensity conflict with the group, the official said.

"Western embassies in Sanaa were put on high security alert -- especially the British and American embassies," the official said, referring to Yemen's capital. "The government of Yemen has increased security outside those embassies and they were heavily fortified in fears of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula retaliation."

Tribesmen from Abyan province are supporting the provincial governor after al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula killed his brother in an ambush aimed at assassinating the governor himself, the official said.

Saturday night, two suicide bombers were killed after their vehicle, which was rigged with explosives, attempted to ram a military motorcade in Moudeya, the official said. The car exploded after Yemeni forces shot at the suspicious vehicle with high-caliber machine guns.

In the past week, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is suspected of being behind three separate attacks that have killed at least two Yemeni security officials, according to a government official.

Last week also saw the release of an audio recording purported to be from Qassim al-Rimi (also known as Abu Hurira al-Sanaei), the leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, that was posted on radical militant websites. The speaker promised that Yemen's president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, would be punished "for his crimes" and announced that a new army would rid the country of "crusaders and apostates." CNN could not verify the authenticity of the recording.