32 killed as Yemeni soldiers battle Qaeda for key town
AFP & AP
ADEN AT least 32 people were killed in a third day of clashes on Wednesday between Yemeni soldiers backed by tribesmen and Al Qaeda militants trying to take over a strategic town in Yemen’s south, local sources said.
“Twenty nine Al Qaeda militants and three tribesmen were killed” in the battles raging on the outskirts of Loder, the Abyan province town that the extremists have been trying to retake, a source from the area said.
Tribal sources also confirmed the toll.
The tribesmen, who are residents of Loder, have formed “resistance committees” to prevent the militants from entering their town.
Sixteen Al Qaeda militants, among them two local leaders, were also captured by the tribal committees, tribal sources said.
The latest deaths raised the toll to 156 people killed, most of them Islamist insurgents, since they raided army barracks on Monday.
Residents in Loder, who confirmed that the battles were ongoing, said that two air strikes by Yemeni forces also targeted the southern entrances of the town.
Local sources said that the fighting was concentrated near a power plant at the southern entrance to Loder.
“Al Qaeda militants are still insisting on taking over the town,” said the source.
Loder is located some 150 kilometres (95 miles) northeast of Zinjibar, the Abyan capital which militants of the Al Qaeda-linked Partisans of Sharia (Islamic law) overran in May last year.
Al Qaeda briefly seized Loder in August 2010 before being driven out by the army.
A tribal source said the militants wanted to recapture it because of its position between Shabwa, Bayda and Lahij provinces where Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, is also active.
Monday’s attack had followed a series of air strikes that killed 24 suspected Al Qaeda militants in their southern and eastern strongholds.
The United States considers the Yemen-based AQAP to be the most deadly and active branch of the global terror network.
In cities like Loder, which is in Abyan province, residents have become fed up with the government’s inability to protect them and, in a country where most adult males possess weapons, have taken up arms to protect themselves.
Al Qaeda was once present in Loder, but in July residents drove them out.
The militants have since been trying to regain their foothold in the town, which has a population of about 30,000.
Loder is strategically located along a major highway that links Abyan’s provincial capital of Zinjibar, an Al Qaeda stronghold, to the provinces of Hadramawt, Bayda and Shabwa, where the group also is active.
The area is now a patchwork of government- and militant- controlled towns.