x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

A senior Shabwa security official said Friday’s attacks came in retaliation against US drone strikes in southern Yemen. . Hakim Almasmari reports from Sanaa

SANAA // At least 26 soldiers and policemen were killed on Friday during attacks carried out by Al Qaeda militants in southern Yemen.

The militants used heavy fog as cover during the three attacks in Shabwa province.

The militants attacked an army camp responsible for ensuring security at oilfields in Shabwa, sources said. Simultaneously, “a suicide bomber in a car blew himself up before reaching his target, an army checkpoint” in the nearby Al Nushaima area, a military official said. About 15 kilometres away, Al Qaeda fighters also attacked a special forces camp at Mayfah.

At least eight militants, among them two suicide bombers, were reported killed in the three attacks, while dozens of security forces were wounded.

The defence ministry said Colonel Nasser Tahih, Commander of the First Battalion Second Infantry Brigade, was among the dead.

The ministry blamed Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula for the attacks. Al Qaeda said on militant internet forums that it had carried out the attacks.

The attacks came a month after diplomatic missions were closed in Yemen and across the region after authorities received intelligence suggesting that Al Qaeda had been plotting an attack.

A senior Shabwa security official said Friday’s attacks came in retaliation against US drone strikes in southern Yemen.

Drone strikes had escalated over the past four months killing more than 80 suspected Al Qaeda militants. In July, Al Qaeda’s deputy leader in Yemen, Saeed Al Shihri, was killed in a drone strike. He was the main spiritual leader for Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

Analysts said the attacks show how vulnerable Yemen still is despite security forces gaining control of the southern part of the country last year. Abdulsalam Mohammed, the director of the Sanaa-based Abaad Research Centre, said the government needs a new strategy to fight militant groups.

“One year after the government announced that it defeated Al Qaeda, the group comes out of know where with three major attacks in one province,” said Mr Mohammed. “Nearly 100 Al Qaeda militants participated in Friday’s attack and that shows they are still strong.”

The Yemeni government, backed by the United States, has been leading a war against Al Qaeda in Yemen for nearly two years. Abdrabu Mansur Hadi, the interim president, has said militants should be hit with an iron fist.

“Al Qaeda has been weakened and are handicapped today. We will not give in to the terrorist demands. We will fight them until they lay down their arms,” said Mr Hadi in April.

On Tuesday, the interior ministry tightened security and warned that Al Qaeda might be planning attacks. Last month, the US and three other western countries shut their embassies in Sanaa for nearly a week warnings that Al Qaeda was in the final stages of planning a major attack.

Yemen’s Al Qaeda wing has been blamed for directing a string of unsuccessful bomb plots against Americans. Those included a foiled plan to down a US-bound airliner using a new, sophisticated explosive to be hidden in the bomber’s underwear, and a plot to send mail bombs on planes to the US hidden in the toner cartridges of computer printers.

Al Qaeda seized dozens of towns in south Yemen in 2010 mainly in the provinces of Shabwa and Abyan taking advantage of political unrest in the country following an uprising against former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. When Mr Hadi came to power in February 2012, the military launched a major offensive against the militants in southern Yemen. Since then, hundreds of militants have been killed and dozens arrested.

foreign.desk@thenational.ae with additional reporting Agence France-Presse