Yemen has detained two Frenchmen for questioning over suspected links to al-Qaeda, according to security officials.

"During the past two days, two French nationals accused of belonging to Al-Qaeda have been arrested," said national security service chief General Mohammed al-Ahmadi.

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) claimed responsibility for a January 7 assault on French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo in which two Frenchmen killed 12 people.

The perpetrators, brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi, are known to have trained with al-Qaeda in Yemen, which was formed in 2009 after a merger between armed groups there and Saudi Arabia.

"There are around 1,000 al-Qaeda militants in Yemen from 11 Arab and non-Arab countries," Ahmadi told reporters in the capital Sanaa.

Washington regards the Yemen-based franchise as the network's most dangerous branch and has carried out a sustained drone war against its leaders.

Order from leader

AQAP said the orders to carry out last week's attack had come from Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Egyptian doctor who succeeded al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden after his death in 2011.

Cherif Kouachi told French media before he was killed by police that a trip he made to Yemen the same year was financed by Anwar al-Awlak, a US-Yemeni religious leader killed by a US drone strike in 2011.

AQAP has a record of launching attacks far from its base, including a bid to blow up a US airliner over Michigan on Christmas Day in 2009.

It recently called on its supporters to carry out attacks in France, which is part of a US-led coalition conducting air strikes against fighters from the Islamic State group in Iraq and the Levant.

Source: Agencies