Yemeni authorities have arrested six wanted al Qaeda militants who were plotting to attack foreign targets and local government figures, the defence ministry said on its website on Tuesday.

The state news agency Saba, which carried a similar report, said the suspects included an al Qaeda leader from a province that borders Saudi Arabia and that he was suspected of leading a cell that attacked Sanaa airport in 2009.

These elements were conducting surveillance operations against targets they wanted to conduct terrorist operations against, including leaders and prominent state figures as well as government facilities and Arab and foreign missions, Saba quoted a security source as saying.

The agency published mug shots of the six suspects who it said were also accused of recruiting youths to fight with militants in other provinces of Yemen, which was plunged into widespread disorder by an anti-government uprising this year.

(Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari; Writing by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Mark Heinrich)