Al Qaeda militants in Yemen launched a major attack targeting army, security and government buildings in a southern city, killing at least 16 troops overnight, security and military officials said on Saturday.
The attack struck an army headquarters, the central security headquarters, the Central Bank building, the traffic police department, the post office and the agricultural bank in Sayoun, a city in southern Hadramawt province.
The attackers, however, failed to storm the army command and the security headquarters due to the fierce resistance put up by the government troops, the officials said. They said the attackers used car bombs at the beginning of their assault.
They said Jalal Baliedy, a prominent al Qaeda leader, led the attack with dozens of militants who entered the city from different directions in several SUVs. They said fighters split into groups, with each group assigned to attack a certain target.
They identified Baliedy as an al Qaeda leader in the port town of Zanzibar in south-central Yemen. They said he now leads an al Qaeda group called "The Hungry Lions".
The sound of explosions and gunfire terrified residents of Sayoun, many of whom hid inside their homes during the attack.
The officials said the attackers also suffered casualties, but they were not able to estimate how many because the militants evacuated them when they withdrew. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they weren't authorised to brief journalists.
Washington considers Yemen's al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula the most active branch of the group in the world, and has assisted Yemen's government with logistics, training and drone attacks. The militants have fought back, targeting government buildings and security forces.
The group is blamed for a number of unsuccessful bomb plots aimed at Americans, including an attempt to bring down a US-bound airliner with explosive hidden in the bomber's underwear and a second plot to send mail bombs hidden in the toner cartridges on planes headed to the US.