Yemeni tribesmen brought down a warplane and captured its pilot on Wednesday in an area north east of the capital, where the country’s air force was bombarding armed pro-opposition tribesmen, a tribal source said.
A military spokesman said a Sukhoi SU-22 “fell during a regular mission” and held opposition leaders “responsible for the incident,” Saba state news agency.
The tribal source said fighters shot down the plane using anti-aircraft weapons and detained the pilot when he jumped from the wreckage in the mountainous area of Naham.
The jetfighter was downed by anti-aircraft guns near Arhab, 40 kilometers (26 miles) north of the capital, where armed tribesmen have been locked in combat with the elite Republican Guard, led by President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s son Ahmed, witnesses said.
“We saw the downed plane in flames on the ground,” one witness said.
The plane crashed in the village of Beit Azar, and the pilot who had ejected was captured by tribesmen, tribal sources said.
Heavy air strikes have targeted the tribal area of Arhab after a general and six other soldiers were killed Sunday in clashes between tribesmen and the Republican Guard.
Some tribes have aligned with protesters seeking to oust Saleh, who unexpectedly returned to Yemen last week from Saudi Arabia during a wave of violence in the capital that left more than 100 people dead.
Earlier this week, tribesmen attacked a military base in Naham, stealing arms and killing a general. Three tribesmen were also killed in the fighting.
General Abdullah al-Kulaibi, head of the 63rd brigade of the elite Republican Guard unit, was killed in the attack by tribesman opposed to Saleh’s rule in the strategic town of Nihm, the defense ministry said.
Four of the attackers were killed during the assault on the military base, about 60 kilometers (40 miles) from the Yemeni capital, it said.
Tribal sources claimed on Monday that 33 troops were captured in the confrontation.
Meanwhile, three more gunmen were killed in overnight clashes with the guard, tribal sources said.
Nihm is one of several villages and towns that collectively make up the strategic northern gateway into Sana’a and is site of at least five Republican Guard bases.
The elite unit has so far prevented dissident General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, who now controls part of the capital, from calling in reinforcements from Yemen’s Northern provinces where parts of his division are deployed.
The tribesmen who carried out the assault on the military base late Sunday are allied with General Ahmar and have been battling government troops for control of the area.
Saleh is under pressure to relinquish power and allow new elections as international powers fear instability in Yemen could create a wider security threat