Seventeen Yemeni tribesmen were killed Thursday in clashes that followed the assassination of a local Al-Qaeda leader by his half-brother in his stronghold southeast of Sana’a, tribal chiefs said.
The clashes erupted after Tarek al-Dahab was shot dead by his half-brother Hizam in the town of Al-Masaneh, a family fiefdom in Bayda province, several tribal chiefs said, confirming that the killer and his brother were among the 17 killed in the gunfights.
“Al-Qaeda gunmen fired rockets at the house of Hizam killing him and his brother Majid, as well as their nephew Ahmed,” one source said.
Eleven armed tribesmen were killed when the vehicle transporting them was also targeted, the sources said.
A tribal chief said that Hizam was “pushed by authorities” to kill Dahab who had in January taken over control of the town of Radah, about 130 kilometers (85 miles) southeast of Sana’a, and 30 kilometers (19 miles) from Al-Masaneh.
Dahab and his gunmen withdrew from Radah after holding it for nine days, bowing to tribal pressure.
A security official, however, told Reuters that “Dahab was killed by his brother at his residence in the Al-Manasih neighborhood in Bayda province during a family dispute.”
Dahab was also a relative of the slain U.S.-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki.
On Wednesday, the shooting to death of five officials in the middle of a southeastern Yemeni town, as well as the death of a soldier in a car bomb attack on a military checkpoint, highlighted the lawlessness in Yemen less than one week before a national election to approve a new national leader to replace longtime autocratic President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Many groups in Yemen - including al-Qaeda, a movement calling for independence of Yemen’s south, and insurgent groups in the country’s north - oppose the elections.
Wednesday’s attacks appeared to be efforts to make the vote fail.
Law and order deteriorated across the country during the year-old popular uprising seeking to push Saleh from power.
Saleh is currently in the U.S. being treated for injuries sustained in a bomb blast last year. Under a U.S.-backed plan, his deputy, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, is expected to be declared the country's new leader in elections on Feb. 21.
The U.S. and Saudi Arabia have pinned their hopes on Hadi, considering him the best person to end Yemen’s unrest and lead the fight against the country’s active Qaeda branch, which has directly targeted the U.S.
Many worry, however, that Saleh will remain the country’s most powerful figure due to his many relatives and tribesmen in the impoverished country’s security forces.
In a sign that Saleh is beginning to hand over authority - officially at least -
he ordered on Wednesday that pictures of him hanging around the country be replaced with those of Hadi, the state news agency Saba reported.