ADEN: Yemeni government forces have driven a group of Islamist insurgents linked to Al Qaeda from their mountain retreat in the country’s south after killing 21 militants during two days of fighting, a military source said on Saturday.
The army and pro-government militias battled militants on Thursday and Saturday near the town of Shuqra in Abyan province, an impoverished, rugged region of southern Yemen where tribal law holds sway and armed Islamists have a strong presence.
Five soldiers and two militia members were also killed, the source said. Surviving militants fled the area, he added.
The military used artillery and aircraft to target the hideout near Shaqra, 35 kilometres from the Abyan capital of Zinjibar, in the operation late on Friday, the official said on condition of anonymity.
Among those killed was Belidi Tawfiq, the brother of one of Qaeda’s leaders in Abyan province, the official added.
Luhishi Hussein, a leader of a paramilitary unit that supports the military against the jihadist network in southern Yemen, said the operation resulted in “more than 10 deaths in the ranks of Qaeda.”
The militants had been holed up in the area after being driven out of cities and towns in the region following a military offensive launched in June last year.
Qaeda took advantage of the weakness of Yemen’s central government during an uprising in 2011 against now-ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh to seize large swathes of territory across the south.