SANAA  - The US embassy was closed to the public Thursday in Yemen after a spate of attacks against foreigners and fears that Al-Qaeda will seek revenge for a deadly offensive in the south.

“The embassy is closed today. And this will remain in effect until further notice,” an employee at the US mission in a heavily-guarded neighbourhood in northeast Sanaa, told AFP. Police were deployed along all roads leading to the embassy and conducted a thorough inspection of vehicles in the vicinity in line with security measures put in place several months ago.

State Department spokeswoman Jan Psaki said Wednesday that the embassy would be temporarily closed to the public “due to recent attacks against Western interests in Yemen”. These attacks “and information we have received have given us enough concern to take this precautionary step,” she said in a statement. Yemen’s army seized control of major Al-Qaeda stronghold Azzan in the southern Shabwa province as an offensive against militants entered its tenth day Thursday, the defence ministry announced.

“Armed and security forces have entered Azzan,” the second-largest city in Shabwa, the ministry said in a statement, quoting a military official.

A local government official in Shabwa confirmed that “army forces have entered Azzan without resistance” from Al-Qaeda fighters who “withdrew to Al-Koor,” a mountainous region nearby.

On Monday a Frenchman was killed and another was wounded when gunmen opened fire on their car in Sanaa’s diplomatic district. Both worked for a private security firm that officials said was guarding the European Union delegation in Yemen.

On Wednesday, Yemeni security forces shot dead the head of a “terror cell” behind Monday’s attack, the country’s supreme security committee said.

Later that day the interior ministry said it was searching for suspects whose vehicles were involved in recent attacks in Sanaa after “five Al-Qaeda terrorists” were arrested in several parts of the capital.

The suspects had “arms, ammunition, and devices used to carry out terrorist acts” in their possession, it said.

The developments came as Yemen pressed with a deadly offensive against strongholds of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in the lawless south of the country.

As the operation entered its 10th day Thursday the defence ministry announced that the army had seized control of a major AQAP stronghold in Azzan, in southern Shabwa province.

Authorities have reported that several Al-Qaeda commanders were among dozens of suspected militants killed since the operation was launched on April 29.

“These huge losses will push Al-Qaeda to commit hysterical and desperate acts by mobilising its supporters and dormant cells to attack police and army officers,” the interior ministry said Monday.

The offensive against AQAP suspects was launched in the rugged southern and central provinces, where a wave of US drone strikes killed scores of suspected militants last month.

AQAP is seen by the United States as the network’s deadliest franchise.

The group, a merger of Al-Qaeda in Yemen and Saudi Arabia, has been linked to a number of failed terror plots against the United States.

AQAP leader Nasser al-Wuhayshi vowed, in a rare video appearance last month, to attack Western “crusaders” wherever they are.

Al-Qaeda usually uses the term crusaders to refer to Western powers, especially the ones which have intervened militarily in Muslim countries, mainly the United States, Britain and France.

In her statement on Wednesday the State Department spokeswoman said that Washington would “evaluate the security every day and.. reopen the embassy to the public once it is deemed appropriate.

The US embassy and several Western missions in Yemen closed in August after US warnings of an Al-Qaeda attack.

AQAP took advantage of the weakening of the Sanaa central government after a popular uprising in 2011 forced out veteran president Ali Abdullah Saleh.