ADEN, Apr 9, 2011- (AFP) Army units shelled a suspected Al-Qaeda refuge in southern Yemen on Saturday after urging civilians to evacuate the area, an officer told AFP.
The tank and artillery fire zeroed in on the area of Joar in Abyan province, the officer from the 25th mechanised brigade said on condition of anonymity.
Civilians were asked to leave the area, especially Makhzen, before the shelling began, he said.
One resident reported being woken by a call from the army on a loudspeaker to leave.
"I hope my house is not shelled because I won't be able to build another one," said the resident, who fled with his wife and four children.
Washington has expressed fears Al-Qaeda could take advantage of a prolonged political crisis in Yemen, where President Ali Abdullah Saleh has faced mass protests since late January calling for him to step down.
"Yemen has really eased up the pressure on Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula," US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said in Iraq on Thursday, referring to the group's affiliate in Yemen.
Saleh has been a close US ally in Washington's fight against Al-Qaeda, which has a strong presence in Yemen's south and east.