Security forces and government officials have been the main target in recent attacks in Yemen [EPA]

Armed men have ambushed a military convoy in the mountainous Abyan province in southern Yemen, killing three soldiers and injuring at least two.

The convoy of security forces was heading east from Zinjibar, Abyan's provincial capital, when it came under attack on Saturday.

The air force responded by bombing the attackers to give the convoy cover to continue its journey to the town of Mudia, according to a security official.

Clashes between the army and "terrorist elements involved in the ambush" left several dead and wounded among the attackers, the defence ministry's website, 26sep.net, said.

"We don't know exactly who was behind the attack but we have to take into account that the area is known for the presence of two forces, al-Qaeda fighters and the separatists of the south who would like to break away from the rest of Yemen," Al Jazeera's Hashem Ahelbarra, reporting from the capital, Sanaa, said.

'Volatile area'

An Al Jazeera source said that four men in a car involved in the attack on the convoy died when their explosives prematurely detonated. 

However, it is not confirmed whether they were suicide bombers or if they were just planning to plant the bomb on the main road, waiting to remotely detonate it once the convoy advanced.

"It shows that the south of Yemen is becoming really one of the most volatile areas," Ahelbarra said.

"Al-Qaeda has said few days ago that it has established a new army in the south. They started in central Yemen taking refuge in powerful tribal areas."

Yemen's government is battling fighters from Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), who have been held responsible for the growing number of recent attacks in the south, where separatists are also fighting for an independent southern Yemen.   

According to state news agency reports, Yemen's interior ministry announced on Saturday a $100,000 reward for information that would lead to the capture of any of the eight al-Qaeda suspects that it has named.

Also, Yemen's interior ministry has arrested a local man suspected of financing al-Qaeda.

The ministry said in a statement on Saturday that Saleh al-Rimi, a 33-year-old Yemeni living in neighboring Saudi Arabia, was stopped at the airport a day earlier because his name appeared on a security list.

Al-Qaeda has been expanding its presence in Yemen, with a number of its leaders arriving from Saudi Arabia in recent years.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies