Clashes between Al-Qaeda militants and the army on the outskirts of Zinjibar in Yemen’s restive south left 20 people killed, most of them jihadists, as soldiers advanced towards the city, the defense ministry reported Friday.
“Eighteen Al-Qaeda militants were killed and dozens wounded while the rest fled” the clashes on the outskirts of extremists’ stronghold Zinjibar, which Yemeni troops have been trying to retake since May, 26sep.net said.
“Two soldiers were also killed while seven others were wounded” in the clashes that erupted late on Thursday, the ministry’s news website said.
AFP could not independently verify the toll.
The ministry said that the army has “made a major advance towards Zinjibar driving out the terrorist Al-Qaeda elements from several positions they held.”
Since last May, the army has been battling the extremist group’s Yemeni branch, known as the Partisans of Sharia (Islamic law) who took over Zinjibar, capital of Abyan province, in an attempt to regain control of the city.
Meanwhile in the capital Sanaa, the interior ministry said it beefed up security measures around the Saudi embassy and the ambassador’s residence, after the kingdom announced Tuesday that Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula militants are holding a Saudi diplomat kidnapped in Yemen.
An AQAP member had confirmed in a telephone call to the Saudi ambassador in Sanaa that the group “is responsible for the kidnapping of the deputy consul in Aden, saying that their demands include handing over several prisoners to members of the network in Yemen,” Saudi news agency SPA said.
Al-Qaeda has exploited a decline in central government control that accompanied Arab Spring-inspired protests which eventually forced Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh to resign.