SANAA | Thu May 31, 2012
(Reuters) - At least seven people were killed when fighters linked to al Qaeda attacked Yemeni troops guarding a town briefly seized by the militants earlier this year, officials said on Thursday.
The attack on Radda, a town in the al-Baydah province 170 km (105 miles) southeast of Sanaa, comes amid a major Yemeni army offensive on militant strongholds further to the south.
The Yemeni Defence Ministry said four militants and three soldiers died during the attack late on Wednesday night.
Fighters linked to the al Qaeda's Yemen branch, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), briefly seized Radda in January but left the town after striking a deal with the authorities.
AQAP-linked Ansar al-Sharia (Partisans of Islamic law) said Wednesday's clash began after government troops surrounded the home of a resident named Nassr al-Hattam and pounded it with tank fire.
In an emailed statement, it said Ansar al-Sharia dispatched fighters who attacked troops surrounding the house and a Republican Guard checkpoint at the entrance of Radda. Several soldiers were killed or wounded, it said.
Washington has grown concerned over security in Yemen after militants overran several towns in the south of the country during a popular uprising last year that severely weakened central government authority and eventually toppled former President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
The Yemeni army has since regained control of some parts of Abyan, including parts of the provincial capital Zinjibar, and surrounds the town of Jaar, another militant stronghold, Yemeni officials say.
Washington, which sees AQAP as a threat to international security, has thrown its weight behind Yemen's new President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
The United States has stepped up drone attacks against militants it suspects may be plotting against it. It has also renewed military training to help Yemeni security forces against al Qaeda.
On Wednesday, an army official said 20 militants and seven soldiers died when government troops fought off an ambush by Islamist militants on the western edge of Jaar.