Former Yemem president Ali Abdullah Saleh speaks during a ceremony marking the 30th anniversary of his General People's Congress party. Image Credit: AP

Dubai: A senior security official in Yemen’s southern city of Aden said yesterday that at least two dozens of Al Qaida militants running death squads targeting security and resistance figures have been arrested in Aden. Munir Al Mashali, the commander of the elite Special Task Forces, told Gulf News yesterday that detectives who interrogated the captured militants discovered they were colluding with figures loyal to the ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh.

“We have arrested more than 20 Al Qaida operatives who are involved in attempts to assassinate the governor of Aden, a UAE officer, and many security and resistance figures,” he said.

The city of Aden, the temporary base of president Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi’s government, has seen a series of drive-by shootings and terrorist attacks that claimed the lives of many government officials and resistance fighters.

Security officers suspect that there is a nexus between the assassins and Al Houthis along with forces allied to Saleh, who were driven out of Aden by an Arab coalition fighting to restore the legitimate Yemeni government.

“ We have also arrested nine people suspected of providing logistical and surveillance support to the assassins,” he said.

Special Security Forces officers have been deployed throughout the city. The group was formed after the liberation of Aden from Iran-backed Al Houthi occupation in July last year.

Trained and armed by the Saudi-led Arab coalition, these forces were tasked to handle Al Qaida and other militants groups who exploited a power vacuum to gain a foothold in the strategic city and neighbouring provinces.

After clearing Aden’s Mansoura district from Al Qaida and Daesh-linked figures In April, the forces took part in a big offensive that pushed Al Qaida out of Lahj province.

Al Mashali said that text messages on the arrested militants’ mobile phones and showed that they received orders from figures based in Sana’a and Aden.

“We have captured a Republican Guard officer in the Green City in Aden who was paying them and gave them uniforms,” he said.

The officer hails from Bani Houshish region in the Sana’a province, according to Al Mashali.

Nine more militants were arrested on Monday in Radhfan district accused of masterminding twin suicide attacks on army base that killed at least four soldiers on Tuesday in Lahj province.

Al Mashali said four Al Qaida militants surrendered on Wednesday to the police in Lahj, raising the number of surrendered militants to more than 25 since April.

Local government officials have deployed local religious community figures to deter Yemenis from joining militant groups.

A Saudi-led coalition has conducted an extensive air campaign against Al Houthis since March 2015, pushing them out of Southern Yemen, but failing so far to dislodge them from Sana’a and the rest of the north.

Backed by massive air support from the coalition, thousands of troops launched a major military operation to drive Al Qaida out of Al Mukalla in April, the capital of Hadramout province, and the neighbouring cities. Another similar operation was launched against Al Qaida cells in the southern province of Abyan.