An air strike on a vehicle south of Yemen killed 5 al-Qaeda militants on Tuesday, an official said, hours after three Yemeni soldiers were killed in a suicide bombing in Bayda province.
U.S. drones and fighter planes have regularly targeted al-Qaeda militants in Yemen as in Pakistan, but the United States does not comment such operations.
The suicide bombing was sparked clashes in which a local Al-Qaeda chief also died, a security official said.
“Three policemen were killed and six others were wounded in a suicide attack on a checkpoint in Suwadeya,” the official said, referring to a village in Bayda province.
The attack was followed by clashes between extremists and security forces in which the province’s al-Qaeda chief, Naser al-Dhafri, and another militant were killed, the source said.
He accused Dhafri of being the “mastermind” behind Tuesday’s attack.
The militants also managed to capture two policemen during the fighting, the official said, requesting anonymity.
Al-Qaeda exploited months of pro-democracy protests last year to grab swathes of territory in the southern part of the country.
Militants from Ansar al-Sharia earlier this month launched a wave of coordinated attacks on government forces outside Zinjibar, capital of the province of Abyan, killing at least 110 soldiers.
At least 59 militants were killed in a series of air strikes on militant outposts last week.
Yemen’s interior ministry had issued a statement warning of “a terrorist plot by al-Qaeda to target vital installations and government facilities in several provinces.”
“The al-Qaeda network is planning to carry out terrorist operations using bomb-laden vehicles,” it said.
The ministry is committed to “dealing with this threat... (and) will continue its war on terror.”
In an address to the nation after being sworn in to succeed Saleh on Feb. 25, President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi vowed to fight against al-Qaeda and restore security across the impoverished nation, ancestral homeland of slain jihadist leader Osama bin Laden.
Shortly after his speech, a suicide attack against a presidential palace in the mostly lawless southeastern province of Hadramawt killed 26 Republican Guard troops. al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula claimed responsibility.
The violence highlights the security challenges facing Hadi as he tries to restore order and unify the country’s armed forces, as stipulated by a Gulf-brokered transition accord that ended Saleh’s rule.
Saleh, a U.S. ally in its “war on terror, “handed power to Hadi based on the deal, which was hailed by world powers as Yemen’s only exit from a year-long uprising that left the country’s economy in tatters and aggravated the dire security situation.
Al-Qaeda and their local affiliates have launched near daily attacks since February on security forces and police in Bayda, as well as the provinces of Shabwa and Hadramawt in the south and east of the country.