Al-Qaida militants are threatening to kill 73 Yemeni troops held hostage unless the government releases Islamist prisoners.

Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) issued a statement Thursday saying family members of soldiers captured by the group should continue pressuring the Yemeni government to cooperate in a prisoner swap.

But on Friday CNN reported a senior Yemen security official had ruled out any exchange.

We will work on freeing the soldiers being held by the militants, but only by reasonable means. The government will not set free any militants. This will only make the terror crisis even worse, the unnamed source was quoted as saying.

According to the official, three of the Yemeni troops have already been killed.

Over 100 Yemeni troops were killed late last week after al-Qaida militants stormed their positions in the restive south of the country.

Last Sunday's assault was just one of several attacks against the army in the past week, and one of the deadliest since newly installed President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi promised a crackdown on militants after his election in February.

A delegation from the Yemen Military Committee visited the southern region on Wednesday, desperate to find out how AQAP has scored so many victories against the Yemen military.

AQAP have a strong presence in Yemen, portraying themselves as defending Yemenis against a U.S.-backed puppet government, CNN reported.