"Commanders of the Yemen-based Al Qaieda in the Arabian Peninsula - have vowed to hit back."
Sanaa, May 9 - Yemen's defense minister escaped an attack by suspected gunmen of the Yemen-based Al Qaeda branch in the country's southern province of Abyan Friday afternoon, security officials and witnesses said.
The Al Qaeda assailants opened fire with automatic rifles as Maj. Gen. Mohammed Nasser Ahmed's convoy passed by on a main road near Mahfad town in Abyan, witnesses told Xinhua.
At least two military officers in the convoy were injured, a security official said on condition of anonymity, adding the identities of the injured were not immediately clear.
An intelligence official in Abyan confirmed the attack and said that Ahmed, who survived two previous assassination attempts on his life in 2011 that killed two of his bodyguards, was unharmed.
However, a tribal chief in Abyan denied the reports saying that Ahmed's convoy was not targeted or ambushed by gunmen in Abyan.
The gun was fired into the air as a celebration by the tribesmen to receive the defence minister who visited their region, the tribal chief told Xinhua over phone.
The Yemeni armed forces backed by mechanised battalions, air force and special forces have killed, wounded and captured dozens of local and foreign suspected Al Qaeda militants during the offensive that started two weeks ago.
On Thursday, Yemen's defence ministry announced that army troops dislodged scores of Al Qaeda militants from their last bastion in the southeastern province of Shabwa after a two-week-long fighting.
Commanders of the Yemen-based Al Qaieda in the Arabian Peninsula - have vowed to hit back.
The AQAP, known locally as Ansar al-Sharia, emerged in January 2009. It is considered the most strategic threat to the Yemeni government and neighbouring oil-rich Saudi Arabia.