The ministry statement said security forces will pay $23,000 to anyone who comes forward with information leading to the arrest of any of the wanted men. They included allegedly senior figures in al-Qaida’s Yemen branch, including Saudi nationals Ibrahim Mohammed el-Rubaish and Ibrahim Hassan el-Assiri.
El-Rubaish was released from the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay in 2006 and is believed to have played significant roles in al-Qaida’s expanding offshoot in Yemen. He is a theological adviser to the group and his writings and sermons are prominent in the its literature.
Military officials said the threat may be related to the Bab al-Mandeb, pointing to a visit Sunday by the defense minister, Gen. Mohammed Nasser Ahmed, to Yemeni forces positioned at the Red Sea entrance about 276 kilometers (170 miles) south of Sanaa.
Officials said the visit came after they received intelligence that al-Qaida could be targeting foreign or Yemeni interests at the vital maritime corridor, a main thoroughfare for international shipping but also a crossing point for smuggled weapons and illegal immigrants between east Africa and Yemen.
Ahmed urged the forces to stay ‘‘on alert against any sabotage operations aiming at destabilizing the country,’’ according to the officials. They also spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the press.
Yemen has been the site of numerous anti-U.S. attacks dating back to the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in Aden harbor, which killed 17 American sailors.
In 2008, al-Qaida attacked the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa, killing one American. Western embassies were locked up in 2010, days after the foiled plot on Christmas Day in which a passenger on a Detroit-bound plane tried to detonate explosives in his underwear. The Obama administration alleged the suspect was trained and armed by the al-Qaida affiliate in Yemen.
The impoverished, decentralized and predominantly Muslim country is the ancestral homeland of the late al-Qaida leader, Osama bin Laden.
Washington considers the al-Qaida branch in Yemen to be among the terrorist network’s most dangerous branches. The United States has also assisted Yemen in fighting the militants who, at one point during the country’s recent political turmoil, had overrun large sections of the south. The group has also carried out bold attacks on Yemeni security forces, killing hundreds in the past two years.