SANAA, Yemen, Jan. 7 (UPI) -- The government of Yemen declared war on al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula as tribal leaders warn area militants to surrender or face retaliation.
Yemen has emerged as a new front in the war against al-Qaida militants following claims of responsibility by the Yemeni branch of the terrorist cabal for a failed bombing of a U.S. passenger jet Christmas Day.
Yemeni forces struck a major blow against al-Qaida operatives in the area, hitting a cell north of the Yemeni capital, Sanaa.
Kasem al-Raimi, the head of military planning for AQAP, and his associate Hezam Mujali were likely killed in the latest strikes by Yemeni forces, the English-language Yemen Observer reports.
Western-trained military forces launched a major campaign against the 200 or so suspected al-Qaida fighters active in Yemen. AQAP leaders are said to be recruiting tribal leaders to fight the "traitor" Yemeni government, which they accuse of supporting a Western-backed "Crusade war" in the region.
Gen. David Petraeus, the head of U.S. Central Command, met with Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh and other senior leaders as Washington shifts its focus to the Yemeni terror threat.
Abu Baker al-Qirbi, the Yemeni foreign minister, said, however, that Yemen would "deal with terrorism in its own way."
Meanwhile, tribal elders in the central province of Marib warned al-Qaida operatives to abandon the region, surrender or face the same fate as their comrades killed in Yemeni strikes earlier this week.