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Aden - Security forces in Yemen have arrested 14 al Qaeda militants, including nine foreigners, who were plotting a series of attacks, the defence ministry said on Tuesday, boosting U.S.-backed efforts to defeat Islamist fighters in the poor country.
The militants were planning to target army and civilian leaders as well as foreign interests, the ministry said, and had been operating in three cells, the largest of which fought the army in the south of the country, where militants until recently held territory.
The ministry gave no details of the date or location of the arrests, but said the militants included four Egyptians, two Jordanians, a Somali, a Tunisian and a man from Dagestan in Russia's North Caucasus.
It's relatively rare for such foreign fighters to be captured alive, though their lifeless bodies have often been found after clashes with government forces.
Government troops last month drove Islamist fighters out of several towns they controlled in the south of the country as they pressed ahead with a U.S.-backed offensive Washington hopes will quash Ansar al-Sharia, a tenacious offshoot of al Qaeda.
The group - meaning Partisans of Islamic Law - has exploited instability in the Arabian Peninsula to gain a foothold in a country that borders Saudi Arabia, the world's biggest oil exporter, alarming the United States.
The ministry said the other two cells consisted of five Yemenis who were planning attacks on military and civilian leaders, as well as on foreign interests in the country. Two of the militants had been involved in looking for new recruits, it added.
Information about the arrests was included in a security report submitted to President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi earlier this week by the country's intelligence services, the ministry said on its website.
Separately, a security official said an al Qaeda-linked militant arrested on Saturday night had died from his wounds. He had been arrested along with seven other militants who were trying to flee their former strongholds in the southern province of Abyan to the neighbouring governorate of Dalea.
Hundreds of militants have been on the run since they were pushed out of Abyan. Ansar al-Sharia swears allegiance to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which U.S. officials have called the most dangerous offshoot of the global militant network. - Reuters