DUBAI (Reuters) -- Yemeni forces hunting Al-Qaeda fighters who have based their regional command in the Gulf Arab country arrested three suspected militants east of the capital, Sanaa, state media said today.
The Defence Ministry's online newspaper said the men were arrested in their car, which bore no license plates, in the province of Maarib, among the areas at the center of the hunt for Al-Qaeda fighters.
Yemen, backed by the United States and Saudi Arabia, has stepped up its war on Al-Qaeda since the network's Yemen wing said it was behind the failed December 25 attempt to bomb a U.S.-bound passenger plane.
The paper said the three men were aged from 20 to 29, but gave no further details on their identity and did not say when they were arrested.
Yemen launched an air strike last month on the house and farm of Ayed al-Shabwani, a leading Yemen-based Al-Qaeda militant in Maarib, but never released word on casualties.
Shabwani was one of six Al-Qaeda militants the goverment had previously said died in an earlier air strike, though Al-Qaeda denied at the time that any of its members had been killed.
Western powers and neighboring Saudi Arabia worry that government control could collapse in Yemen, enabling Al-Qaeda to strengthen its presence in the poorest Arab country and use it as a base for new attacks.
Yemen is also fighting a northern Shi'ite insurgency and faces separatist sentiment in the south. Sanaa agreed last week to a truce with northern rebels to end a war that has raged on and off since 2004. Previous truces have not held.
Yemen gained a reputation as an Al-Qaeda haven after the September 11, 2001, attacks in the United States, and fears that it was becoming a training and recruiting center for militants followed crackdowns on the group in Pakistan and Afghanistan.