SANA, Yemen — Gunmen loyal to Yemen’s ousted ruler seized a security building near the Interior Ministry in the capital for a few hours on Sunday before vacating it, a security official said.
The official said a former security official and a relative of the former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, sent the gunmen on the mission. After taking over the building in Sana, they blocked off the airport highway where it is located.
The incident highlighted how Yemen has yet to return to political stability, despite a US-brokered transfer of power earlier this year.
Saleh, Yemen’s ruler for over 30 years, handed over power to an elected president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, in February after a yearlong uprising, as part of a deal that gave him immunity from prosecution if he relinquished power.
Over the past months, tens of thousands of protesters have continued to hold demonstrations against the deal.
Many believe Saleh’s immunity has given him a free hand to hinder the new president’s efforts and retain control of the country through a network of relatives and loyalists in security and military positions.
In Yemen’s volatile south, lack of state authority has prompted fears of a comeback by Al Qaeda militants in several cities and towns they seized during a security vacuum because of the uprising. The military drove out the militants in a broad offensive starting in May, but police have not returned in full force.
A security official said a former security official and a relative of the former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, sent the gunmen on the mission.
On Sunday, gunmen kidnapped an Italian embassy guard as he walked on a street near the mission’s building in Sana, an Interior Ministry official in Yemen said. In Rome, the Italian Foreign Ministry confirmed the kidnapping and said officials were working to secure the guard’s release.
The Yemeni officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to reporters.
In recent weeks, Al Qaeda has been kidnapping foreigners, though local tribesmen used to be the main perpetrators of abductions. The captives are held as bargaining chips to force authorities to release detainees. Some are held for ransom. Most such incidents end with the hostages being released unharmed.
An Al Qaeda front group, Ansar al-Shariah, was behind the kidnapping of a Saudi Arabian diplomat in the port of Aden in March. He appeared in a video clip posted on a militant website earlier this month, saying that Al Qaeda would free him only if Saudi authorities release female prisoners held for their links with the terrorist organization.
The United States considers Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula as the terror network’s most dangerous offshoot.