Yemeni army closes on Al Qaeda-held Zinjibar
SANAA // Yemeni military officials said 42 people have been killed in clashes between the army and Al Qaeda-linked militants in the country's south.
The officials said the military used warplanes and heavy artillery in its assault yesterday on the town of Al Hurur in Abyan province, killing at least 30 militants.
Al Hurur is just outside the city of Jaar, which is one of many towns in Southern Yemen that have been under the control of Al Qaeda fighters since last year.
The officials also said 12 government troops were killed yesterday in fighting in and near Zinjibar.
In the capital, Sanaa, United States president Barack Obama's counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan, met with the new Yemeni president, Abdrabu Mansur Hadi.
In Sanaa on Saturday, Oman closed its embassy because of threats from terrorists, the Bulgaria ambassador to Yemen barely escaped a kidnap attempt on a main thoroughfare and gunmen tossed a grenade at the home of the information minister.
The incidents underscore the fragile security in the country, where Mr Hadi, urged on by the US is trying to crush the Islamist militants linked to Al Qaeda. The government launched the offensive after US officials said they thwarted a bomb plot to bring down a US airliner by Yemen's Al Qaeda wing.
The US and Saudi Arabia want Mr Hadi to unite the army and roll back gains made by Islamists during the political turmoil of the last year.
Washington has stepped up its drone attacks in Yemen, and the Pentagon said this week that it was sending military trainers into the country.
In the government offensive, the death toll after two days of operations was about 30 militants and 12 soldiers including a colonel, said security officials and medics. They also said 13 soldiers and 17 militants were wounded.
In addition to the push towards Zinjibar, the military also shelled and bombed militant positions in the city of Jaar and was able to control Al Haroor region, about 25 kilometres west of Jaar.
Residents said the army destroyed heavy weapons and vehicles that the militants seized during previous battles with the army.
The offensive coincided with two US drone strikes that killed 12 militants in the eastern provinces of Shabwa and Marib, military officials said.
The first one, near the border of Marib and Shabwa provinces, killed seven militants, including one Egyptian national, officials said.
The second strike hit two cars in Marib, killing five fighters.
Last week, two senior Al Qaeda militants were killed in similar strikes.
In Sanaa, gunmen threw a hand grenade at the house of Yemen's information minister, Ali Al Amrani, in Sanaa injuring one person when the gunmen fired on those fleeing the scene, the minister's office said yesterday.
Abdel-Basset Al Qaedi, a member of the minister's staff, said two men on a motorcycle threw the grenade at a wing of the building housing the minister's bodyguards, causing no casualties.
Also on Saturday, Bulgaria's ambassador to Yemen escaped an apparent kidnap attempt in the capital.
In Sofia, the Bulgarian foreign minister, Nikolay Mladenov, confirmed the attempted abduction of ambassador Boris Borisov, and said the diplomat was injured.
"Masked armed men stopped the car of the Bulgarian ambassador to kidnap him, but the diplomat managed to escape and hide in a nearby shop," a Yemeni security official said.
The bid to kidnap Mr Borisov and his wife took place on Algeria Street, a main thoroughfare in the capital.
According to the Bulgarian foreign ministry, a pickup truck intercepted and blocked the diplomatic car, driven by Mr Borisov.
The four armed men in the truck first shot in the air and then smashed the front and driver's windscreen of the car.
"One of the attackers entered through the right-hand door of the car and threatened Ambassador Borisov with a knife," Mr Mladenov said.
"The rest continued to shoot and hit the car with their stocks of their guns.
The ambassador managed to remain in the driver's seat, warning them that they were attacking a diplomat."
Meanwhile, Oman shut its mission and withdrew its staff from Sanaa, an Arab diplomat there said yesterday.
"The Omani Embassy was closed [on] Saturday and diplomats in Sanaa left Yemen after receiving terrorist threats," the diplomat said.
He didn't specify the nature of these threats but said that "most diplomatic missions in Sanaa have received threats," including the embassies of Gulf states and those of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council.
* With additional reporting by the Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse
Updated: May 14, 2012 04:00 AM