15 Jun 2012
Yemeni soldiers killed 40 Islamist militants and captured one of their outposts in heavy fighting in southern Yemen on Thursday, local Defence Ministry officials said.
The Interior Ministry warned in a statement it had put security forces on alert following warnings al Qaeda-linked militants might try to launch attacks against civilian and government targets following their defeat in southern Yemen, reports Reuters.
The Yemeni army is pushing ahead with a U.S.-backed offensive against the last stronghold held by the al Qaeda-linked Ansar al-Sharia (Partisans of Islamic Law) in Abyan province after they were driven out from the cities of Jaar and Zinjibar on Tuesday.
A local Yemeni official said heavy fighting had taken place during the capture of the outpost at Wadi Salam, some 20 kilometres (16 miles) west of Shaqra. An estimated 300 Islamist militants were besieged by the army after the outpost fell.
The report could not be independently verified.
Earlier on Thursday, a local Yemeni official and residents said Islamist militants were seen fleeing from the advancing Yemeni army.
Government troops and allied tribal fighters were a few kilometres from Shaqra after retaking an area held by the insurgents on the outskirts on Wednesday.
Many insurgents fled at dawn and headed towards the town of Azzan after setting fire to two tanks and other military equipment, Shaqra residents said.
The militants were forced out of their strongholds of Zinjibar and Jaar on Tuesday in the army's most significant victory against them in more than a year of turmoil that has taken Yemen to the brink of civil war.
Thousands of soldiers backed by tanks and war planes launched the offensive last month and were joined by local tribesmen opposed to the militants.
The United States has provided training and other support, including drone strikes, concerned its Islamist foes have gained a new foothold in the Middle East.
Their advance has fuelled fears about al Qaeda's presence in a country next to Saudi Arabia, the world's biggest oil exporter, and close to shipping lanes.
In Sanaa, the Yemeni Interior Ministry warned that Islamist militants could resort to attacks following its defeat in southern Yemen and said it was beefing up security in the capital and other cities against such attacks.
"Security forces have warned that al Qaeda, in light of the humiliating defeat, could resort to terrorist operations to take revenge for the great victory achieved by the armed forces in destroying the dens of terror in Jaar and Zinjibar," it said in a statement.
Ansar al-Sharia had earlier said it would seek to spread the war across Yemen after it was forced to abandon the towns, according to the SITE Intelligence Group which monitors militant websites.