The Yemeni army has killed seven suspected al-Qaeda militants in an artillery strike on Zinjibar, an extremist stronghold in the restive southern Abyan province, a military official said on Thursday.
The assault follows one of the deadliest al-Qaeda attacks on Yemeni security forces in the southern outskirts of Zinjibar on Sunday that killed 185 troops.
“The army fired artillery shells at Al-Qaeda positions in Zinjibar” late Wednesday night, the official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
A local official in the nearby town of Jaar meanwhile said that “the bodies of seven al-Qaeda fighters” were transferred to the militant stronghold for burial.
Al-Qaeda, which claimed responsibility for Sunday’s attack, said in a statement it took “73 soldiers” captive and seized a tank, anti-aircraft weapons, a rocket launcher, rockets and 11 Kalashnikov assault rifles, as well as three military vehicles and “a large amount of ammunition.”
Yemen’s newly formed cabinet at an emergency meeting late Wednesday condemned al-Qaeda’s escalating attacks in the country’s mostly lawless south and urged the divided and battered security forces to “unite in the face of terrorism and extremism...that threatens Yemen’s security and stability.”
The ministers in a statement released on the official SABA news agency cautioned they would not hesitate “to punish ... those (members of the security forces) who neglect their duties.”
The government warning was triggered by allegations that Sunday’s assault on the army base in Kud was an “inside job” and that some soldiers had collaborated with the extremists.
The ministry of interior meanwhile said late Wednesday that an al-Qaeda plot to seize the city of Mukalla, the capital of Hadramawt, had been uncovered and that security forces in the area have been placed on high alert.
Al-Qaeda linked militants in Yemen, known as the Partisans of Sharia (Islamic law) seized several towns and cities in the country’s south and east, including Zinjibar, in the wake of mass protests against Saleh’s regime last year.
Attacks on security forces have escalated since President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi pledged, during his presidential inauguration speech on Feb. 25, to eradicate al-Qaeda.
Al-Qaeda and their local affiliates have launched near daily attacks on security forces and police in Abyan, as well as the provinces of Bayda, Shabwa and Hadramawt in the south and east of the country.