Last Updated: Fri Apr 13, 2012 01:14 am (KSA) 22:14 pm (GMT)

Battle against Qaeda enters fourth day in Yemen, raises death toll to 177

Boys watch an army tank on a street in the southern Yemeni town of Lawdar. (Reuters)
Boys watch an army tank on a street in the southern Yemeni town of Lawdar. (Reuters)

A battle between al-Qaeda militants and armed civilians fighting for control of the Yemeni town of Louder spread on Thursday to nearby Mudia, as the death toll from four days of clashes reached 177, local sources said.

At least 13 al-Qaeda-linked fighters were killed in Yemen on Thursday, officials and tribal sources said.

The armed men attacked a vehicle outside Mudia carrying alleged Qaeda militants from nearby Shabwa province to Louder, the scene of fighting between Islamists and the army backed by armed civilians, the sources told AFP.

“The militants traded machinegun fire” with the armed civilians, who have formed “popular resistance committees,” leaving one dead on each side, they said.

Residents of Abyan province, mainly from Louder and Mudia, formed the armed groups in 2011 after al-Qaeda militants overran the provincial capital of Zinjibar.

The Yemeni air force raided Qaeda positions on the outskirts of Louder, which the militants have been trying to seize since they launched an assault on an army barracks in the town on Monday, residents said.

The army also fired artillery shells at Qaeda positions on the outskirts of Louder on Thursday, residents said.

And the Islamist insurgents fired mortar rounds at the town, wounding two children, members of the committee and residents said.

“Qaeda militants are shelling our town and targeting civilians,” one tribesman said. “It is random, vengeful shelling.”

Residents and officials said three strikes by Yemeni warplanes on areas controlled by militant group Ansar al-Sharia killed at least six fighters near the southern town of Louder.

One strike hit an army tank that had been captured by the militants on Monday, killing everyone inside it, the sources said. Two more air strikes targeted posts held by militants but no casualties were reported.

Two militants were also killed in clashes with army-backed tribesmen who have tried to stop a group of armed men from Ansar al-Sharia joining forces with militants in Louder, said a local official in the city of Mudiyah, 15 km (10 miles) to the east. One tribesman died in the fighting.

Islamists make up more than 140 of the dead, according to military and tribal sources.

Louder lies some 150 kilometers (95 miles) northeast of Zinjibar, the Abyan capital that militants of the Qaeda-linked Partisans of Sharia (Islamic law) overran last May.

Al-Qaeda briefly seized Louder in August 2010 before being driven out by the army, while armed men from Assal tribe also drove the militants out of Mudia.

A tribal source said the militants wanted to recapture it because of its strategic location between Shabwa, Bayda and Lahij provinces where Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, is also active.

Abyan has fallen completely under the control of the terror network except for Louder and Mudia.

The United States considers the Yemen-based AQAP to be the most deadly and active branch of the global terror network.

Reeling from a year of political upheaval that eventually unseated former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemen is grappling with militants who have been exploiting weakened central government control to expand their influence, particularly in the country’s south.

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