Clashes between Yemeni soldiers and al-Qaeda leave 44 dead

Attacks on Yemeni security forces have increased over the past week since interim President Abdrabuh Masur Hadi was sworn in on February 25. (Reuters)

At least 44 people were killed on Sunday in clashes between the Yemeni army and al-Qaeda militants in the restive southern province of Abyan, Al Arabiya correspondent reported, citing military sources.

A military official was quoted by Reuters earlier as saying that 30 Yemeni soldiers were killed in the clashes. It was not immediately how many Qaeda militants were killed.

“So far 30 soldiers have been killed and the toll is expected to rise as some bodies have not been transferred to hospital yet,” the Yemeni military official was quoted as saying on condition of anonymity.

He said “many more soldiers were wounded” in the clashes south of Zinjibar, Abyan’s provincial capital where the army has been battling extremists since May.

Earlier, at least six Yemeni soldiers were killed when suicide bombers linked to al-Qaeda detonated two vehicles laden with explosives at two military outposts outside the southern city of Zinjibar, local officials and residents said.

They said one vehicle targeted a military position held by coastal guards at the western entrance of the city, with six soldiers believed to have been killed. The second vehicle struck an artillery position at the southern entrance of Zinjibar, killing an unknown number of people.

The militants, believed to belong to a group linked to Qaeda called Ansar al-Shariaa which controls Zinjibar, also launched a raid on both positions after the bombings, taking a number of soldiers prisoner, the local government officials and residents said.

On Saturday, two suicide bombers drove a car packed with explosives into a Yemeni army base in the southern province of al-Bayda, killing one soldier, the Defense Ministry said, in an attack for which al-Qaeda claimed responsibility.

Militants linked to al-Qaeda have exploited political upheaval to strengthen their foothold in Yemen, particularly in the south which is also home to rising secessionist sentiment.

Attacks on security forces have increased over the past week since interim President Abdrabuh Masur Hadi, who has vowed to continue his predecessor’s fight against the network, was sworn in on February 25.

The extremists have been mainly targeting elite Republican Guard troops commanded by Ahmed, the son of Ali Abdullah Saleh who has ruled Yemen for three decades before bowing to domestic and international pressures and handing power over to Hadi.

On Saturday, military sources said that two suicide bombers killed a Yemeni soldier as they blew up a vehicle at a Republican Guard camp in Bayda, a week after a similar attack in Hadramawt claimed by al-Qaeda left 26 dead.

Also on Saturday, two policemen with the central security services, commanded by Saleh’s nephew Yehya, were wounded when roadside bombs planted in their camp exploded in Hadramawt’s provincial capital Mukala.

Saleh had declared himself a U.S. ally in its “war on terror” but some of his opponents accused him of exaggerating the al-Qaeda threat in a bid to win Western support to cling on to power. Critics charge he may even have deliberately surrendered cities such as Zinjibar.

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