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Published: Friday May 9, 2014 MYT 11:37:24 PM
Updated: Friday May 9, 2014 MYT 11:38:25 PM

Two French citizens among militants held in Yemen- security source

SANAA (Reuters) - Yemeni security forces have arrested two French citizens believed to be members of an al Qaeda cell in Yemen, an official security source told Reuters on Friday.

The men were arrested on Thursday while trying to leave through one of the country's airports, the source said.

The two men were identified as Mourad Abdulla Abad and Taha al-Issawi, both French citizens of Tunisian origin, the source said, adding that they were believed to belong to an al Qaeda cell in Yemen's eastern Hadramout province.

The French embassy in Yemen was not available to comment.

Western countries fear that further destabilisation in Yemen, which faces separatists in the south and unrest in the north, could give more space to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the local branch of the global Islamist militant movement, to plot attacks on international targets.

Earlier this week, Yemeni government forces captured al Qaeda's main stronghold in the south of the country after insurgents blew up the local government compound there and fled.

The army had intensified an offensive to root out foreign and local Islamist fighters holed up in some of the country's most impenetrable areas.

During attacks on Thursday in the province of Shabwa, security forces killed two foreign fighters, one from Saudi Arabia and other from Dagestan, a security source said.

Yemen's state news agency Saba quoted a military source as saying most of at least 37 militants killed in fighting in Shabwa on Sunday were foreigners, including Saudis, Afghans, Somalis and Chechens.

(Reporting by Mohamed Ghobari and Mohamed Mohamed Mukhashaf in Aden; Writing by Amena Bakr; Editing by Tom Heneghan)

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