Suspected al Qa'eda gunmen ambushed a Yemeni army patrol in the southern city of El Aatik, in the southern province of Shabwa today, killing five soldiers and wounding one, a security official said. The killings come after attacks last week by suspected al Qa'eda gunmen on the intelligence and security service headquarters in the south Yemen town of Zinjibar in which three policemen were killed and 11 hurt. It would make the third attack by the regional arm of al Qa'eda against the Yemeni government in five weeks. Al Qa'eda in Yemen had mostly focused its high-impact attacks on hitting foreign targets, but last month gunmen raided the regional headquarters of the political security office in Aden, killing 11, an attack al Qaeda said was revenge for a state assault on a militant stronghold.
The government has intensified its operations against the local al Qa'eda group since the attempted bombing of a US-bound airliner on December 24 by a Nigerian believed to have been trained and supplied by the group. The province of Shabwa is believed to be a hideout for the militants, including the US-born radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who is alleged to have played a key part in the failed attempt to bomb the Detroit-bound passenger jet. In the north of the country, a mortar and machinegun battle between Shia rebels and pro-government Ibn Aziz tribesmen drew in government forces overnight to break up the fighting, killing at least 19 people from both sides and complicating efforts to cement a truce. Fighting in the mountainous north between the two sides over the past four days had left at least 49 people dead. The northern violence marked the deadliest day of fighting since a truce was sealed in February to end a civil war that has raged on and off since 2004 and displaced 350,000 people.
A local official in the Harf Sufyan region said: "There were very violent confrontations. Nine soldiers and pro-government tribesmen were killed as well as about 10 Houthis [rebels]. It remains very tense after the failure of efforts to stop the fighting between the two sides," he said.