Al-Qaeda said on Thursday that it carried out a suicide bombing that killed the Yemeni commander of an all-out offensive that saw the recapture of territory it held in the south, a US monitoring group said.
In a message posted on jihadist websites, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) said the assassination of General Salem Ali Qoton on Monday was a "message" to the Yemeni military and its US backers, SITE Intelligence said.
The jihadist group threatened to punish anyone taking part in the campaign with "martydom-seekers who have sworn to pluck off your rotten heads that agreed to be a vehicle for America in its war against the Muslims in Yemen."
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Qoton, who was the top army commander for the south, was killed along with two of his aides, when a Somali suicide bomber threw himself on the general's vehicle in the regional capital Aden.
Qoton had led a month-long offensive against the jihadists in Abyan and Shabwa provinces, forcing them to withdraw from a string of towns and villages which they captured last year.
US officials have repeatedly described AQAP as the most dangerous of the jihadist network's worldwide affiliates.
The United States has sent military advisers to help Yemen in its fight against Al-Qaeda and officially confirmed last week taking lethal action against the group's members in Yemen and Somalia.
The targeting of Al-Qaeda militants in Yemen by armed US drones is an open secret in Washington, privately acknowledged by US officials.
A total of 567 people have already died in the Yemeni offensive launched last month -- 429 Al-Qaeda militants, 78 soldiers, 26 militiamen and 34 civilians -- according to an AFP tally compiled from various sources.