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Yemen forces say al-Qaeda driven from president's home district

Troops loyal to Abd Rabbuh Hadi, backed by the UAE forces, say al-Qaeda militants flee Abyan after lightning offensive
Al-Qaeda forces are believed to have regrouped in a neighbouring province (screengrab)

Yemeni forces backed by the UAE on Thursday claimed to have driven al-Qaeda militants from a southern district that is the birthplace of the president-in-exile, Abd Rabbuh Hadi.

Wadea is located in Abyan province, which for months was a no-go zone for pro-government troops and where al-Qaeda militants fled after a similar offensive in the neighbouring province of Shabwa last month.

A Saudi air force pilot was killed in Abyan on Wednesday when his plane crashed "due to a technical failure," the state Saudi Press Agency said.

Seven suspected al-Qaeda members were arrested during the Wadea operation which began on Wednesday, including an alleged explosives expert known as Abu Abdallah, according to the sources.

Security sources said the militants had not put up a fierce resistance, but withdrew - a now familiar pattern for al-Qaeda in Yemen. 

"Most of the organisation's leaders fled... and headed towards the nearby Muhafid district," the sources said, referring to an al-Qaeda stronghold on the edge of Abyan province.

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, seen by the US as the network's most dangerous branch, has exploited years of conflict between the government and Houthi Shia rebels to expand its presence in Yemen, particularly in southern provinces.

The UAE is a key component of the Saudi-led coalition which intervened in Yemen in 2015, when Hadi fled into exile as the rebels threatened to overrun his last stronghold. About 100 UAE troops have been killed in the conflict. 

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