- Associated Press - Monday, April 9, 2012

SANAA, Yemen (AP) — The Yemeni military on Monday pushed back al Qaeda militants and kept them from taking control of a key city after a lengthy battle that left 44 people dead, authorities said.

The clashes erupted after the militants attacked a Yemeni army post in the city of Lawder in Abyan province, where al Qaeda fighters are active.

Residents and military officials said 24 militants and 14 soldiers, including a colonel, were killed in the clashes. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity in line with military rules.

Jihad Hafeez, a member of an anti-al-Qaeda civilian committee in Lawder, said six of his men also were killed.


The attack by al Qaeda demonstrates how its branch in Yemen has exploited the political and security turmoil following the country’s yearlong uprising, managing to take control of large swaths of land in the south and staging increasingly bold attacks on the military.

Members of armed popular anti-al-Qaeda committees joined the fighting alongside the soldiers. The committees are formed by civilians, mainly from anti-al-Qaeda tribes, who oppose the terror group.

A member of one of the committees, Abdullah Amer, said the militants tried to enter Lawder at dawn. Lawder is a strategic town northeast of Zinjibar in Abyan province where al Qaeda fighters still control some areas.

He said fierce fighting raged for hours before the militants were forced to retreat.

The officials said a nearby army brigade sent reinforcements to the army post in Lawder to back up the soldiers during the fire fight.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with military rules, said three militants also were killed in government heavy shelling of the town of Jaar, near Zinjibar, which is still under the militants control.

Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen, known as al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, is one of the movement’s most dangerous offshoots.

Al Qaeda and other militant groups have taken advantage of Yemen’s yearlong political turmoil to try to expand their toehold in the country’s south and have captured several key cities and towns.

Yemen’s uprising, inspired by Arab revolts elsewhere, forced longtime President Ali Abdullah Saleh out of office in February. His successor, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, later was rubber-stamped as president in a nationwide vote. Mr. Hadi has vowed to fight al Qaeda while restructuring the armed forces, in which Mr. Saleh’s loyalists and family members still hold key posts.

Mr. Hadi, in his attempt to shake up the military, fired key commanders and relatives of Mr. Saleh, including the ex-president’s half brother, air force Cmdr. Mohammed Saleh al-Ahmar. The air force commander initially defied the order and seized control of the airport in the capital of Sanaa on Saturday. Cmdr. al-Ahmar holed himself up in his office before abruptly leaving Sunday as the airport was reopened.

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