As many as 15 soldiers and 19 militants were killed in al Qaeda attacks on two army positions in southeast Yemen on early Friday. Several civilians were also wounded, according to army and medical sources.
An officer said the attacks targeted army positions near the town of Shibam in Hadramawt province, a stronghold of Al-Qaeda whose militants control its capital Mukalla.
Twelve soldiers and 19 jihadists were killed, according to the officer, but a medical source later said the army lost 15 men and several civilians were wounded in the attacks.
The main attack was staged at the western entrance to Shibam, which is known as the “Manhattan of the Desert” and listed as a UNESCO world heritage site for its high-rise mud-brick buildings.
Local officials said fierce clashes broke out after Al-Qaeda militants exploded a roadside bomb targeting an army patrol, while a suicide bomber blew up a car at an army post near a residential area.
“The blast damaged many homes, wounding several civilians,” the medical source said in the nearby town of Seiyun, where the casualties and the bodies of the dead soldiers were transported.
Army units posted in Hadramawt are loyal to the government of President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi in the face of an armed revolt by Shiite Huthi rebels.
Taking advantage of Huthi advances in northern and southern Yemen and the collapse of central authority, Al-Qaeda seized control in April of the port city of Mukalla.
Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, has imposed a strict version of sharia Islamic law in areas of Yemen under its control.
The group has executed or lashed those it accused of “crimes” including homosexuality and sorcery. Those accused of theft have their hands cut off.
The United States considers AQAP to be the most dangerous affiliate of the jihadist network and targets its leaders with drone strikes.