SANAA (Reuters) - Yemen said late on Thursday it had foiled a number of al Qaeda attacks on government, military and diplomatic premises in the capital Sanaa and arrested several suspected would-be suicide bombers.
Two weeks ago, the army launched its biggest offensive in nearly two years to try to dislodge the Islamist militant group from its southern strongholds, after a wave of attacks against government officials, security forces, foreigners and energy facilities.
While it has made territorial gains, it has failed to prevent retaliatory strikes, some of them in the heart of the capital, by al Qaeda's most active wing, the Yemeni-based al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and its affiliates.
The Interior Ministry said security forces had thwarted "a number of cowardly terrorist operations that al Qaeda had planned in the capital" targeting "vital government establishments, security and military headquarters as well as some foreign embassies".
It said a number of "suicide terrorist elements" had been arrested before they were able to carry out their attacks in Sanaa, among them "a number of foreigners who came from Syria".
Security forces also detained five al Qaeda suspects in the southern province of Shabwa, the Interior Ministry said on Friday.
Al Qaeda wants to establish an Islamic emirate in the Arab world's poorest state. But the fact that AQAP has used Yemen to launch attacks abroad makes the country, which shares a long border with the world's top oil exporter, Saudi Arabia, an international concern.
The United States, which backs the Yemeni government and military and has mounted regular drone strikes against suspected militants, has closed its embassy in Sanaa to the public because of security fears. After a number of increasingly bold attacks on foreigners, other Western embassies have also tightened security.
Yemen has been beset by turmoil since 2011, when mass protests forced veteran president Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down.
(Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari; writing by Rania El Gamal; Editing by Kevin Liffey)