Mar 13, 2012
By Mohammed Ghobari
SANAA (Reuters) - At least four Yemeni soldiers were killed on Tuesday when a suicide bomber detonated a vehicle laden with explosives near a checkpoint in the south of the country, a police source said, in an attack claimed by an al Qaeda-linked group.
The bombing is the latest in a spate of attacks by Islamist militants, who have escalated their operations in Yemen's south since President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi took office last month vowing to fight al Qaeda's regional wing.
At least four soldiers were wounded in the attack outside the southern city of al-Bayda, the police source told Reuters. The governor of al-Bayda province said clashes between the army and "terrorists" erupted in the wake of the explosion.
"The attacker who drove the car made it explode when it stopped at a checkpoint," the source said. "It scattered into tiny pieces, killing four soldiers instantly. Four others were taken to the hospital with critical wounds."
Militant group Ansar al-Sharia (Partisans of Islamic Law)said it was responsible for the bombing and put the number of soldiers killed at 27, in a text message purporting to come from them. It said three of its own fighters had also been killed.
The group said the attack was in revenge for recent air strikes on al-Bayda and Abyan provinces, which it blamed on U.S. drones. Washington has repeatedly used drones to target militants in Yemen.
More than 60 militants have been killed over the past week in air strikes attributed to the United States and Yemen, tribal sources and local officials say.
The group also said it had taken one soldier captive, in addition to the 73 it has already said it is holding. In a statement posted on Islamist forums on Monday, the militants said they would give free passage to the 73 in exchange for the release of their imprisoned fellow Islamists.
Anti-government protests that paralyzed the impoverished nation for most of 2011 have severely weakened central government control over the country, particularly in the south, where militants have seized several towns.
In their deadliest attack, militants earlier this month killed at least 110 soldiers in attacks on government forces outside Zinjibar, capital of Abyan province.
Wary of al Qaeda's presence in Yemen, Washington backed Hadi's election last month under an Arab Gulf-brokered deal to ease his predecessor Ali Abdullah Saleh from power after a year of political upheaval.
The United States equipped and trained Yemeni military units - notably ones led by Saleh's son and nephew - for "counter-terrorism", though both sides say military cooperation fell off during turmoil surrounding mass anti-Saleh protests.