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In 2009, the organization merged with the Saudi branch of al Qaeda and dramatically increased the pace of its attacks, including an unsuccessful attempt on the life of the British ambassador in April.

The early Saturday attack follows a military campaign in eastern Yemen against suspected al Qaeda hideouts, which prompted the movement to issue a statement on militant websites Friday threatening to “set the ground on fire under the tyrants of infidelity in (President) Saleh’s regime and his U.S. collaborators.”

An earlier statement by the local branch of al Qaeda also urged its supporters to free the group’s members held in prisons around the region.

American worries about Yemen’s ability to fight al Qaeda heightened last year after several Yemeni detainees who had been released from the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, resurfaced as leaders of the al Qaeda offshoot.

In recent months, the U.S. Defense Department approved spending $155 million to help Yemen in its fight, including the purchase of four helicopters to support counterterror operations there.

The money also includes $34.5 million to train and equip the Yemeni special forces and another $38 million for aircraft to allow those forces quicker access to hotspots in the country.

The U.S. State Department has also acknowledged this month that Yemeni authorities are holding 12 Americans in custody, apparently part of al Qaeda’s efforts to hit targets in the U.S.


Associated Press Writer Sarah El Deeb contributed to this report from Cairo.