Yemen arrests 2 French Al-Qaeda suspects: top official

SANAA (AFP) - Yemen has detained two Frenchmen for questioning over suspected links to Al-Qaeda, a top security official said Saturday.  

“During the past two days, two French nationals accused of belonging to Al-Qaeda have been arrested,” said national security service chief General Mohammed al-Ahmadi.  

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) claimed responsibility for a Jan 7 assault on French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo in which two Frenchmen killed 12 people.  

The perpetrators, brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi, are known to have trained with Al-Qaeda in Yemen, which was formed in 2009 after a merger between militants there and Saudi Arabia.  

“There are around 1,000 Al-Qaeda militants in Yemen from 11 Arab and non-Arab countries,” Ahmadi told reporters in Sanaa.  

Washington regards the Yemen-based franchise as the network’s most dangerous branch and has carried out a sustained drone war against its leaders.  

AQAP said the orders to carry out last week’s attack had come from the very top of the global Islamist network – Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Egyptian doctor who succeeded Al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden after his death in 2011.  

Cherif Kouachi told French media before he was killed by police that a trip he made to Yemen the same year was financed by Anwar al-Awlak, a US-Yemeni cleric killed by a US drone strike in 2011.  

AQAP has a record of launching attacks far from its base, including a bid to blow up a US airliner over Michigan on Christmas Day in 2009.  It recently called on its supporters to carry out attacks in France, which is part of a US-led coalition conducting air strikes against fighters from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.  

AQAP’s English-language propaganda magazine “Inspire” has urged extremists to wage “lone wolf” attacks abroad.  

AQAP took advantage of an uprising in 2011 against now-ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh and seized large swathes of territory across southern Yemen, although most of its militants later fled to the east.