Last updated: 1 May, 2014

Yemen army kills six Al-Qaeda militants in new southern offensive

Yemeni troops backed by aircraft on Thursday killed 13 suspected Al-Qaeda militants, including a local leader, as they pressed an offensive in southern and central Yemen, the defence ministry said.

At least 10 people, including six militants, died in an ambush by Al-Qaeda suspects on an army convoy in the central province of Baida, the ministry said, updating an earlier toll.

Three soldiers and a tribal chief, Sheikh Abdallah Salem al-Abdelli, were among those killed in a gun battle, it said.

The ambush targeted Baida governor Aldhaher al-Shadadi and an army regional commander, General Ali Mohsen Muthanna, both of whom escaped unscathed, a military source told AFP.

In the south, warplanes backed land forces in raids on Al-Qaeda positions in Raida, in Shabwa province, the defence ministry’s news website said.

Three vehicles were destroyed and six suspected militants travelling in them killed, it said.

The raids came as the army pressed on with an assault since Wednesday night against Al-Qaeda in the Shabwa province towns of Maifaa and Azzan.

In neighbouring Abyan province, troops killed a local leader of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), state news agency Saba reported, identifying him as Abu Muslim al-Uzbeki.

The jihadist was “probably killed in clashes that erupted when army forces advanced into Al-Mahfad”, an army officer told AFP, referring to an Al-Qaeda stronghold in Abyan.

A security official said Uzbeki travelled in 2011 from Uzbekistan to Yemen, where he was named an AQAP leader in Abyan.

The army launched a major offensive on Tuesday aimed at clearing the jihadists from their remaining strongholds in villages and smaller towns in Shabwa and Abyan.

The operation began with a setback for the army when Al-Qaeda ambushed a convoy, killing 15 soldiers and taking 15 more prisoner, three of whom were later executed.

A total of 28 suspected militants, 24 soldiers and a civilian have now been reported killed in the army’s offensive, which followed intense US and Yemeni air strikes last week.

AQAP — a merger of the network’s Yemeni and Saudi branches — is regarded by Washington as its most dangerous franchise and has been subjected to an intensifying drone war this year.

The jihadists took advantage of a 2011 uprising that forced veteran strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh from power to seize large swathes of southern and eastern Yemen.

The army recaptured several major towns in 2012 but has struggled to reassert control in rural areas, despite backing from militia recruited among the local tribes.