SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Al-Qaida in Yemen posted a statement on militant websites Monday saying that its second-most senior commander has not been killed. It was the second time the group has denied Saeed al-Shihri's death.
The Saudi national, who fought in Afghanistan and spent six years in the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, is "alive and in good health," according to a senior al-Qaida cleric in Yemen and the group's media arm, al-Malahem. The cleric, Abu-Saad Al-Aamly, posted the claim on his Facebook account.
It came as nine people were killed in separate incidents of violence throughout Yemen. Also, its capital city was without electricity on Monday after militants attacked electricity cables connecting Sanaa to the province of Marib, where an oil pipeline was also blown up.
The impoverished nation at the tip off the Arabian Peninsula is awash with problems, including a rocky transition of power after the country's longtime leader was forced to resign during Arab Spring protests in 2011. The instability has emboldened tribes loyal to the former regime, and al-Qaida took advantage of the turmoil to temporarily overrun entire cities and towns in the south.
Washington considers the local al-Qaida branch, known as al-Qaida in The Arabian Peninsula, as the most dangerous and active of the group's offshoots.
A Yemeni police official told The Associated Press that security forces may have been too quick announcing al-Shihri's death in January, based on information from Saudi Arabia. The official spoke anonymously because he was not authorized to release the information to reporters.
Yemeni security officials had claimed the al-Qaida commander was killed by a U.S. drone strike. The country's state news agency, SABA, reported in January that al-Shirhi was in a coma after a missile attack in late November, but did not make clear if he had died.
Yemen had previously announced al-Shihri's death in September last year. A DNA test, however, proved that the body recovered was not that of al-Shihri. A month later, al-Shihri denied his own death in an audio message posted on Jihadi websites.
In the northeastern province of Marib, armed tribesmen were suspected of being behind an attack on oil pipelines and electricity pylons that led to a power outage in the capital, Sanaa.
Sabotage attacks on oil pipelines are common in Marib, which is flush with weapons and where the government has little control. The more than 430-kilometer (260-mile) oil pipeline carries around 100,000 barrels of oil a day. Similar acts of sabotage in December caused $310 million in losses.
Some of Marib's tribesmen maintain cordial ties with al-Qaida, while other tribal chiefs there are suspected of being allied with former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The attacks appear to be aimed at undermining the new government, which has responded with deadly air strikes.
Four people, two soldiers and two tribesmen, were killed Monday in Marib when a group of tribesmen attacked a military checkpoint in the area of Sarwah, according to security officials.
Officials also said that troops loyal to the former president killed three protesters in the city of Radda, about 160 kilometers (100 miles) south of the capital. Two soldiers from the Republican Guard, still led by Saleh's son Ahmed, were also killed in clashes with protesters and police.
The Republic Guard is an elite army unit that was once the backbone of Saleh's 33-year rule. The security force was supposed to be reorganized and brought under the control of the Defense Ministry according to orders by President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, but those changes have yet to materialize on the ground.
Officials said that the troops in Radda forced residents to close their stores and blocked roads leading to the city on Sunday, prompting the protests on Monday. It was not immediately clear why the troops forced businesses to close, but security officials said they suspect it was linked to efforts by Saleh's loyalists to disrupt a national dialogue aimed at mapping out the country's future.
All officials spoke anonymously in line with regulations.