The commander of Yemen’s southern military region was killed in a suicide attack in Aden early on Monday, medics and a security official said, after the army drove al-Qaeda-linked militants from their strongholds in the area.
The bomber, who was wearing an explosives belt, targeted Major General Salem Ali Qatan as he was on his way to work, witnesses said.
“General Qatan was killed and four others were wounded in a suicide attack,” near his home in the Mansoura neighborhood of Aden, the medic said on condition of anonymity.
As the chief military commander in south Yemen, Qatan had led a month-long offensive against al-Qaeda.
Yemeni forces launched the offensive on May 12 aimed at reclaiming towns and cities lost to al-Qaeda over the past year, including Abyan’s capital Zinjibar and the nearby town of Jaar.
The army has been trying to retake towns that were seized by militants last year during a popular uprising against President Ali Abdullah Saleh who formally stepped down in February.
Qatan was appointed in March just days after newly elected President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi took office and pledged to destroy al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the name given to the militant group’s local Yemen branch.
The post had been held for decades by General Mahdi Maqola, known for his close ties to former president Saleh.
Saleh was accused by his opponents of allowing al-Qaeda to establish a stronghold in Yemen’s mostly lawless south and east.
Qatan’s appointment was in line with the Gulf sponsored power-transition deal that saw Saleh quit after 33 years in power, and required Hadi to restructure the Yemeni army during a two-year interim period.
Ali Mansour, a senior army commander and close aide to Qatan described the general’s death as “a huge loss for Yemen and its efforts to fight al-Qaeda.”
Speaking to AFP news agency by phone, Mansour said the attack “bears the hallmark of al-Qaeda,” though the militant group have not formally claimed responsibility for his death.
He gave Qatan full credit for the recent Yemen army’s victories against Al-Qaeda in both Abyan and Shabwa.
“In just three months, Qatan achieved major progress towards chasing down and eliminating” the militants from their strongholds, said Mansour.