Last Updated: Fri Apr 13, 2012 20:26 pm (KSA) 17:26 pm (GMT)

Confrontation between Yemeni army and Qaeda continues, leaves at least 34 killed

Women perform the weekly Friday prayers to show support for the army forces fighting against Islamic insurgents in southern Yemen, during a rally in the central city of Ibb. (Reuters)
Women perform the weekly Friday prayers to show support for the army forces fighting against Islamic insurgents in southern Yemen, during a rally in the central city of Ibb. (Reuters)

At least 34 people, mostly Islamist militants, were killed near the southern Yemeni city of Louder on Friday in clashes between government forces and an al-Qaeda linked group, official and tribal sources said.

At least 20 of the suspected militants were killed in one suburb of the southern town, tribal sources said.

The rest of the dead were tribal levies allied with government troops who were killed in the jihadist assault on the Abyan province town, the sources said.

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

At least 51 people were killed on Wednesday in a third day of clashes in and around Louder, according to military and tribal sources. Yemen’s military launched an offensive five days ago against Islamic insurgents who attacked a military camp outside Louder.

The clashes brought the death toll since fighting erupted on Monday to nearly 200 people, according to local sources.

A local official said the Yemeni air force bombed two sites held by Ansar al-Sharia (Partisans of Islamic Law), a group affiliated with Qaeda, but no casualties were reported.

The group seized control of a significant amount of territory in Abyan during the turmoil that led to the replacement of President Ali Abdullah Saleh by his deputy.

Saudi Arabia and the United States hope the political deal will prevent Qaeda from getting a foothold near oil shipping routes.

The conflict with Islamists in the south is one of several challenges facing the new president, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who took office vowing to fight al Qaeda.

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

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

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

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