The number of soldiers killed in a weekend assault by Al-Qaeda militants on an army camp in Yemen’s restive Abyan province has risen to 185, a military official said Tuesday following the discovery of more bodies.
“The toll has risen to 185 soldiers killed” in the Sunday attack on a military camp in Kud, just south of the main city of Zinjibar, the official said.
“The bodies of 110 soldiers are in military hospitals while the rest of the bodies, found in the desert, were placed in refrigerated rooms,” in military hospitals, the source said.
General Ali Salah, deputy chief of staff for military operations, was appointed to form an inquiry commission to investigate the attack, the source added.
Military officials reported fierce clashes on Sunday when suspected Al-Qaeda militants tried to overrun an army post in Kud.
The violence then spread to other military positions on the outskirts of the city.
At least 25 Al-Qaeda gunmen were killed and several others wounded, an official from the nearby militant stronghold of Jaar told AFP.
He also said at least 56 soldiers were captured by Al-Qaeda, including seven officers and 10 wounded soldiers.
Twenty of them were released later on Monday, the same source said.
A military official told AFP the militants probably benefitted from a sandstorm that blew across the region that day and that they launched a three-pronged attack on the army.
The militants, known in Yemen as the Partisans of Sharia (Islamic law), seized control of Zinjibar and several other towns in Yemen’s mostly lawless south last May as former president Ali Abdullah Saleh faced mass protests.
The military official, who was at the scene during Sunday’s attack, said troops from the Kud base were “surprised” to see the militants carrying army issued weapons and using military vehicles.
Soldiers who survived the attack accused some army leaders, who had served under Saleh, of “collaborating” with Al-Qaeda.
In Bayda province, bordering Abyan, Al-Qaeda gunmen killed a soldier and wounded two others, the defence ministry said, while the extremists announced they killed three soldiers.
Attacks on security forces have spiralled since President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi pledged a crackdown on the militants in an inauguration speech last month as he replaced Saleh — who ruled Yemen for 33 years.
State news agency Saba quoted Hadi on Tuesday as saying: “We are determined to confront terror with all our strength whatever the price. We will track them to their last hideout.”
On Friday, Hadi, who will lead Yemen for an interim two-year period, named General Salem Ali Qatan to head the 31st Armoured Brigade in southern Yemen, replacing Saleh loyalist General Mahdi Maqola.
The appointment was one of Hadi’s first steps as head of a new military commission tasked with restructuring Yemen’s divided security forces.
“The blood of our soldiers will not go in vain. We will fight Al-Qaeda until the last drop of blood. We will work until we destroy their hideouts,” a military official quoted Qatan as saying during a visit he made to Abyan.
Meanwhile in the main southern city of Aden, the Yemeni director of the local branch of AMIDEAST, an organisation that offers English-language training, told AFP he received a phone call from a man who identified himself as a Partisan of Sharia, threatening to blow up his institution.
Authorities immediately beefed up security in Aden’s Khor Maksar, where the organisation’s branch is located, as well as the Saudi and German consulates and a UN office.
A Pentagon spokesman said on Monday the United States was “very concerned” about the latest killings but believed the new government would survive the assault.
“We view Yemen as a very important partner on counter-terrorism efforts and we’re also very concerned about the clashes that have taken place there, to include AQAP (All-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) advances in certain parts in the country,” press secretary George Little told reporters.
Saleh, a US ally in its “war on terror”, handed power to Hadi based on a Gulf-brokered deal, which was hailed by world powers as Yemen’s only exit from a year-long uprising that has left the country’s economy in tatters and its security situation deteriorated.