Al-Qaeda car bombs kill at least 31 soldiers in Yemen

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 21 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 21 September, 2013, 4:07am

Suspected al-Qaeda militants killed at least 31 Yemeni soldiers and policemen in attacks in the south of the country yesterday, their deadliest for more than a year, security officials said.

Twenty-one soldiers died when two car bombs exploded at a military camp in al-Nashama, near the coast, Yemen's Supreme Military Council said, and 10 police were killed by gunmen in the inland town of Mayfaa.

A car bomb exploded near the country's only liquefied natural gas export terminal at the coastal town of Balhaf, killing people inside the vehicle but not causing any other damage.

Officials believe members of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) were behind the attacks, the security officials said.

AQAP is seen by Western countries as one of the most dangerous branches of al-Qaeda because it has attempted bombings on international airlines.

US drone strikes have killed scores of AQAP members and the Yemeni army has seized back territory from the insurgents, prompting Yemen's foreign minister to call yesterday's attacks a sign of increasing desperation.

"This attack was intended to demonstrate they are still there. But it's also a demonstration that they are losing the war against the security and stability of Yemen," Abu Bakr al-Qirbi said.

Ali al-Sarary, an aide to Yemen's prime minister, said the attacks were aimed at thwarting the reconciliation efforts of a "national dialogue" set up between rival factions after a popular uprising in 2011.

Maintaining stability in impoverished Yemen is a priority for Washington and Gulf states because of its location next to major oil shipping routes and Saudi Arabia, the world's top oil exporter.

In one of yesterday's attacks, a bomb in one car exploded among a group of soldiers at the gate of the al-Nashama camp as the driver tried to enter. The other was already inside the camp when it exploded. Sources said about 30 soldiers died.

In Mayfaa, gunmen opened fire at a security headquarters, killing about 10 policemen, before escaping in stolen vehicles.

All the attacks took place in Yemen's southern Shabwa Province, a lawless area where Islamist militants and the security forces have clashed in recent years.

Intelligence pointing to a major impending AQAP attack prompted the US and other Western countries to close many of their embassies temporarily in the Middle East, Africa and Asia early last month.

The militants took advantage of political chaos in Yemen during the Arab Spring in 2011 to seize control of some towns and surrounding areas in the south.

They were beaten back by Yemeni forces with assistance from the US last year, and scattered into small groups.

These have staged a series of attacks against government and military targets using a suicide, car bombs, drive-by shootings and other tactics.