SANAA — Yemen's army launched an offensive, killing three people, against Al-Qaeda-linked militants suspected of holding three European hostages abducted last month, tribal sources said Monday.
"Three people were killed" and several others were wounded in the operation that began late Sunday in the Al-Qaeda stronghold town of Manaseh in the central province of Bayda, tribal sources and medics said.
They gave no further details.
Elsewhere in the same province, "an ambush by Al-Qaeda" killed one soldier and wounded two others, a tribal source said.
The army launched the offensive after three militants, who are accused of holding one Austrian and two Finns hostage in Manaseh, refused to surrender despite mediation efforts, tribal sources said.
The three men are brothers of Tarek Al-Dahab, an Al-Qaeda leader killed in a February 2012 attack.
But they deny they have the hostages.
"The three European hostages are not in Manaseh. They might still be in Marib," Al-Qaeda's eastern stronghold, a tribal source in contact with the militants told AFP.
Earlier this month, Yemeni security officials said the Europeans were being held by Al-Qaeda-linked tribesmen in Marib.
A senior security official told AFP the army will continue its offensive until the three suspects surrender. "The Dahab men must surrender. They will be responsible for the consequences of the ongoing operation."
The Austrian man and Finnish man and woman were abducted in Sanaa on Dec. 21 as they prepared to travel to the southern port of Aden via second city Taez.
The two men were learning Arabic in Sana'a, and the woman had recently arrived on a visit.
Most kidnappings of foreigners are carried out by members of the country's powerful tribes who use them as bargaining chips in disputes with the central government.
Hundreds of people have been abducted in Yemen over the past 15 years. Almost all have been freed unharmed.
Al-Qaeda has a major presence in the south and east of Yemen but rarely carries out kidnappings. — AFP