Yemeni security officials say at least 10 fighters from a pro-government militia have been killed when suspected al-Qaeda militants targeted their convoy with two car bombs. The officials say the attack took place late on Sunday in the Yafea area in Lahj province, where Yemen’s al-Qaeda branch controls several areas, including a large base in which it has stockpiled heavy weapons looted from army depots elsewhere.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media. Al-Qaeda has taken advantage of Yemen’s civil war to gain a foothold in several southern Yemeni areas. The war pits troops and militiamen loyal to the internationally recognized government, backed by a Saudi-led coalition, against Shiite Houthi rebels and a former president’s loyalists.
A suicide bomber rammed his vehicle into a large group of army reinforcements in south Yemen on Sunday, military officials said. A military official said it was unclear whether the attack had been carried out by Al-Qaeda or the Islamic State group, both of which have gained ground in the south and claimed deadly anti-government assaults in the past.
The bombing came hours after clashes between troops and jihadists in Lahj, the military officials told AFP, adding that Saudi-led coalition jets also took part in the fighting. Also on Sunday, suspected members of Al-Qaeda shot dead an army colonel in nearby Abyan province, a military source said.
The gunmen on a motorbike opened fire at Colonel Abdullah Shamba, killing him immediately before driving off, the official said. Shamba headed a local anti-Al-Qaeda militia in Abyan. On Saturday, coalition jets attacked Al-Qaeda positions in Abyan’s provincial capital of Zinjibar and in the nearby town of Jaar, military sources said.
Government forces backed by the Arab coalition began an all-out offensive in March against jihadists in south Yemen, recapturing main cities they had held. But they later retreated from Zinjibar after Al-Qaeda militants struck back. Jihadists have exploited the power vacuum created by the conflict between the government and Huthi rebels and their allies to expand their presence in south and southeast Yemen.
The Arab coalition which backs the Yemeni government against pro-Iran rebels has also turned its sights on the jihadists, and the United States has pressed its drone war against them. Washington considers the Yemen-based Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, to be the extremist network’s deadliest franchise.
Inputs from AFP