September 6, 2011 (AFP)
ADEN — Four Yemeni soldiers were killed and 15 others wounded on Tuesday as troops advanced on a southern Yemeni city held by suspected Al-Qaeda militants, a military official said.
The fierce fighting erupted early Tuesday morning on the outskirts of Zinjibar, the capital of the restive southern Abyan province.
The military official who requested anonymity claimed the army was within one kilometre (less than a mile) of the city's borders.
A medical official at a military hospital in Aden confirmed the toll.
An intelligence official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, later confirmed to AFP that Al-Qaeda operatives were withdrawing from Zinjibar and two other neighbouring towns.
The official said the militants were fleeing to the southern province of Shabwa, another Al-Qaeda safe-haven, confirming earlier reports by Zinjibar residents that gunmen were on the run.
Meanwhile, in a southern town just east of Abyan province, Al-Qaeda aired a documentary film on the escape of 62 militants from a Yemeni jail, residents told AFP.
The movie, which was aired Monday night, lasted 110 minutes, and documented the escape of Al-Qaeda operatives from the central jail in Al-Mukalla, capital of the southeastern province of Hadramawt last June.
The movie was shown to an audience of 200 people on a large screen in the central market of the town.
Tuesday's clashes came just a day after the Yemeni airforce struck a mosque and a hospital in the nearby town of Jaar, killing at least seven civilians and an unknown number of Al-Qaeda operatives.
In May, a group known as the Partisans of Sharia (Islamic Law), believed to be affiliated with Al-Qaeda, seized control of Zinjibar and besieged the base of the 25th mechanised brigade on the outskirts of the town.
Military officials said earlier that advancing troops were able to rescue the besieged brigade.
Since mass anti-government protests swept the country in late January, militants have taken advantage of a weak central authority and increased lawlessness that has spread in the southern regions of the country.
The United Nations and Western powers have repeatedly expressed fears over the role Al-Qaeda might play in Yemen if the regime of long-time President Ali Abdullah Saleh were to fall and a power vacuum ensued.