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Official: Raids are part of recent operations to crack down on al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula

More than 60 suspected al Qaeda militants killed April 19-21, Yemeni officials say

CNN —  

Yemeni commando forces from elite units are conducting simultaneous raids on al Qaeda hideouts and cells on the outskirts of the capital, Sanaa, a Yemeni government official told CNN on Friday.

The raids are part of recent operations to crack down on al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, considered the most dangerous wing of the global terror group, and represents the most intense campaign against it since 2012, the official said.

Yemeni military brigades are also besieging areas around Abyan, Shabwa and Baida provinces, slowly attempting to form a security perimeter around those areas by cutting off main roads and supply routes, according to the official.

The official did not provide information about whether another ground operation involving commandos and infantry troops in those areas was imminent.

A crackdown began last weekend, resulting in the deaths of more than 60 suspected al Qaeda militants in Yemen from April 19-21, Yemeni officials have said.

The offensive included attacks by Yemeni commandos and suspected U.S. drone strikes, a high-level Yemeni government official said.

U.S. special operations troops helped during that offensive, in part by flying Yemeni forces to a remote, mountainous spot in southern Yemen, though no Americans took part in combat, a U.S. official said.

DNA tests are being conducted to determine if one of the most well-known members of that group – bomb-maker Ibrahim al-Asiri – is among the dead, according to Yemeni officials.

One of the sites targeted is in the same area where scores of al Qaeda followers had gathered recently to hear from Nasir al-Wuhayshi, the head of the terrorist network’s Yemeni branch and the global organization’s “crown prince,” the high-level Yemeni official said.

A video of that meeting appeared on jihadist websites. In the middle of that video, al-Wuhayshi, appears brazenly in the open, greeting followers in Yemen.

One reason why Yemen and the United States partnered in the offensive: Threats from al Qaeda operatives in Yemen increased in recent weeks, U.S. officials told CNN.

U.S. authorities blame the Yemen-based branch of al Qaeda for a string of plots against Americans, including the failed attempt to blow up a U.S.-bound jetliner with a bomb concealed in an operative’s underwear in 2009.

It is also suspected of being behind another plot involving printer bombs on U.S.-bound cargo jets.

Did Yemen, U.S. kill al Qaeda’s chief bomb maker?

CNN’s Barbara Starr contributed to this report.