- Al Qaeda gunmen targeted European Union mission employees, officials say
- Attack comes after Yemen launched offensive against al Qaeda
- "This is open warfare," official says
Al Qaeda gunmen killed at least two people Monday, including a French employee of the European Union's mission to Yemen, in one of the latest acts of violence in the country's capital after the government's crackdown on the terror group, two high-level Yemeni government officials said.
The attack shows that al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is responding to a weeks-long government offensive with "open warfare," an official said on condition of anonymity.
"AQAP is taking the battle to the capital," said the official, who was not authorized to speak to the media.
There was conflicting information about the nationalities of those who were killed Monday. Three Yemeni Interior Ministry officials said two French nationals died and another French national was injured. But the two high-level sources said a French national and a Yemeni security officer were killed, and a foreigner of an unconfirmed nationality was injured.
The victims were in a vehicle when gunmen blocked it and started shooting. The gunmen fired 20 bullets in the vehicle's direction before fleeing in a pickup, a senior Interior Ministry official said.
The attack came more than two weeks after Yemen's government launched a military offensive against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and amid an uptick in violence in the capital. Since Sunday, two military officers have been assassinated in Sanaa, authorities said.
Al Qaeda "had threatened they would target government targets and foreign targets in the capital," the anonymous official said.
"This military campaign has opened a Pandora's box, and things will only get worse, but it had to happen," the official continued. "This is a decisive battle, and either we win or they win."
The crackdown killed more than 60 suspected al Qaeda militants in Yemen from April 19 to April 21, Yemeni officials have said. Twelve more were killed Thursday, according to a high-level Yemeni government official.
Operations have included attacks by Yemeni commandos and suspected U.S. drone strikes, according to a Yemeni official.
U.S. Special Operations troops have played a role in the offensive, in part by flying Yemeni forces to a remote, mountainous spot in southern Yemen. But no Americans took part in combat, a U.S. official has said.
After Monday's shooting, authorities set up checkpoints on roads leading to the building that houses the European Union mission to Yemen.
The French Foreign Ministry didn't immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.