DUBAI (Reuters) - The Yemen-based branch of al Qaeda said on Monday that its attack on a Yemeni army base last month targeted an operations room used by the United States to direct drone strikes against militants, and threatened more such assaults.
Dozens of militants stormed and captured the headquarters of the Yemeni army's Second Division in the eastern city of al-Mukalla on September 30 and took some military personnel hostage. Military officials said four Yemeni soldiers were killed and nine wounded in a counter-strike to retake the base.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is regarded by the United States as one of the most active wings of the diffuse international jihadi network, posing a serious threat to Western interests including nearby sea lanes plied by oil tankers.
AQAP said Yemen had turned a number of its military facilities in recent years into "intelligence and operations rooms to direct the war against the Mujahideen (holy fighters) and operate pilotless planes".
"The Mujahideen have directed a harsh blow to one of these headquarters," it said in a message posted on Shumukh al-Islam, an Islamist website, referring to the September 30 attack.
"Such joint security targets, which participate with the Americans in their war on the Muslim people, are a legitimate target for our operations, and we will puncture these eyes that the enemy uses."
It said that dozens of officers were killed in the three-day assault and the operations room was destroyed. AQAP made no mention of any Americans present in the facility and there were no reports of foreigners killed in the attack.
The authenticity of the statement could not immediately be verified.
The United States regularly stages drone strikes to hunt down al Qaeda militants in a campaign that has been criticised by rights groups as tantamount to carrying out executions without trial, with civilians often being hit.
Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi has angered many compatriots by giving unequivocal support for drone operations, which have increased since President Barack Obama took office in 2009. Hadi has also asked Washington to supply drones to the Yemeni armed forces.
The Yemeni army, with U.S. backing, last year drove al Qaeda militants and their allies from some of their south Yemen strongholds. But the jihadists have since regrouped and mounted attacks on government officials and installations.
Militants took advantage of political chaos in Yemen during the Arab Spring uprising in 2011 to seize control of some towns and their hinterland in the south of the Arabian Peninsula state.
They were subsequently beaten back by Yemeni armed forces, with assistance from the United States, and dispersed into smaller groups spread across the south.
But they have since carried out a series of attacks on important military and civilian targets, killing hundreds of soldiers and some senior officers, including Major General Salem Qatan, commander of the Yemeni army in southern Yemen.
(Reporting by Ahmed Tolba in Cairo, writing by Sami Aboudi, editing by Mark Heinrich)