Al-Qaeda in Yemen has denied US allegations it is plotting massive attacks that prompted the closure of Western missions in the country this month, in a statement posted online.
The extremist network also denied reports confirmed by Yemen’s President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi that US intelligence services had intercepted a conversation between Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri and Nasser al-Wuhayshi, head of the Yemen-based Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
“Hadi repeated the nonsense and propaganda published by US intelligence on telephone calls between jihadist leaders to justify the US plot to kill Muslims in Yemen through continued raids,” AQAP said in the statement posted on jihadist Internet forums.
Hadi had “claimed the jihadists were plotting to target oil terminals in the country using bomb-laden trucks,” said AQAP.
“We deny what he said and regard it as an attempt to justify US criminal practises.
“We also affirm our concern… in preserving the blood of Muslims,” the statement added.
A source close to Hadi quoted the Yemeni leader as saying Friday that in the alleged conversation between the Al-Qaeda leaders Wuhayshi told Zawahiri he would be hearing of something “that will change the course of history”.
Hadi and US President Barack Obama had discussed the matter at the White House on August 1, according to the same source.
On August 4, the United States shut 19 of its consulates and embassies in the Arab and Muslim countries amid what American officials said was a threat of an imminent Al-Qaeda attack.
The missions were later reopened.
In the remarks delivered Friday to police officers, Hadi said a bid to attack an oil terminal in Yemen had been foiled after the phone conversation between Wuhayshi and Zawahiri was intercepted.
On August 7, Yemen said it had foiled an Al-Qaeda plot to storm the Canadian-run Mina al-Dhaba oil terminal and seize the eastern Hadramawt provincial capital Al-Mukalla.
Hadi said authorities were still searching for the second explosives-packed truck but had arrested members of a cell who had helped “facilitate the operation”.
The president said a wave of drone attacks during the past two weeks on suspected Al-Qaeda targets in Yemen killed 40 militants, including some ringleaders in the Sanaa region.
State news agency Saba on Friday quoted Hadi as saying he had asked Washington to provide Yemen with drones.
The Yemeni leader defended the use of drones by saying they were more precise than other weapons.
“The cooperation in the field of combating terrorism is not a secret,” Hadi said, referring to his country’s US-backed fight against Al-Qaeda.
AQAP criticised his comments.
“Instead of showing repent and apologising (over the US drone strikes) Abdrabuh praised these massacres without any shame,” it said, adding that he was “dragging the country towards a war with an unforeseen end.”
The network also spoke of failed efforts by clerics and tribal chiefs to broker a truce between it and the government.
An official said in March that Hadi had rejected these efforts, insisting the militants must lay down their arms.
AQAP said that “when details of the negotiations came out against the US will, they were met with rejection from Abdrabuh”.
Among their conditions was the formation of a committee of scholars that would oversee the implementation of Islamic sharia law in Yemen and bring an end to US drone attacks.
The militants took advantage of a decline in central government control during a 2011 uprising that forced veteran president Ali Abdullah Saleh from power to seize large swathes of territory across the south, including most of Abyan province, which they controlled for a year.
They were driven out of these areas in June last year and have been increasingly weakened mainly due to US drone attacks.
They still carry out hit-and-run attacks against security forces.
Yemen is the ancestral home of Al-Qaeda founder Osama Bin Laden and the home base of the militant faction AQAP, the network’s deadliest franchise according to the United States.