Abyan province, home to many al-Qaeda fighters, has been the site of numerous attacks in recent months [EPA]

Yemeni air force jets have targeted an al-Qaeda stronghold town in the south of the country, killing seven civilians and wounding three others when they mistakenly struck a mosque, according to a local official.

Jaar, home to around 30,000 people, lies 12km north of Abyan province's capital Zinjibar, most of which was seized in May by Partisans of Sharia, an organisation that has links with al-Qaeda.

"The Yemeni air force accidentally shelled a mosque in Jaar, killing seven people and wounding five others," the official told the AFP news agency, on condition of anonymity, describing Monday's assault.

"The air force hit the Grand Mosque in Jaar whereas the target was a small mosque held by suspected al-Qaeda militants", situated on the edge of the town.

A medical official in Al-Razi hospital in Jaar confirmed the toll and witnesses said that another raid targeted the hospital, wounding two more people.

Al-Qaeda suspects killed

Later on Monday, the army targeted the hospital again, killing two suspected al-Qaeda operatives and wounding two others, the head of Jaar's local administration, Naser al-Mansari, told AFP.

The shells hit the hospital's entrance and its northern wing where the power generator is located, witnesses said.

A doctor from Al-Razi hospital contacted by AFP said: "The medical staff fled from the hospital after the first strike. We don't know what happened now."

Air raids also targeted the town's court and a police station while Al-Faruq school was completely destroyed, witnesses said.


Mohsen Salem Saeed, a local official, said the death toll had risen and confirmed the hospital bombing, adding that the air force attacked Mount Jaar, where armed extremists have reportedly taken refuge.

"The raids were randomly launched, leaving casualties among civilians and al-Qaeda fighters alike. It is a humanitarian catastrophe," he said.

In Loder, another town in Abyan, tribespeople arrested a suicide bomber on Monday as he was planning to blow himself up in a local market, a tribal source said.

The bomber, who was wearing an explosive belt, admitted that he was planning to attack the market in Loder, the source said, adding that the man was linked to al-Qaeda.

Tribespeople took him to an army camp where the explosives were neutralised, when he alleged that two other bombers were still at large in the town centre, according to the same source.

The town centre was evacuated and armed tribespeople deployed to hunt down the two other suspected bombers, witnesses said.

In July, tribal leaders said that they had cleared Loder of al-Qaeda members.

Yemen's defence ministry said on Sunday that 17 al-Qaeda fighters had been killed in air attacks in the country's south.

Source: Agencies