At least four Yemeni soldiers were killed when a suicide bomber detonated a vehicle laden with explosives near a checkpoint in the south of the country, a police source said.

Ansar al-Sharia, an al-Qaeda linked group claimed responsibility for the attack on Tuesday and put the number of soldiers killed at 27. In a text message purporting to come from the group, it said three of its own fighters had also been killed.

The bombing is the latest in a spate of attacks by Islamist fighters, who have escalated their operations in the country's south since President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi took office last month vowing to fight al Qaeda's regional wing.

At least four soldiers were wounded in the attack outside the southern city of al-Bayda, the police source told Reuters news agency. The governor of al-Bayda province said clashes between the army and "terrorists" erupted after the explosion.

Interior ministry statement

The attack came hours after the interior ministry issued a statement warning of "a terrorist plot by al-Qaeda to target vital installations and government facilities in several provinces".

Live Box 20121885142889809

Fighters linked to al-Qaeda exploited months of pro-democracy protests last year to grab swathes of territory in the southern part of the country.

Fighters from Ansar al-Sharia earlier this month launched a wave of co-ordinated attacks on government forces outside
Zinjibar, capital of the province of Abyan, killing at least 110 soldiers.

At least 59 anti-government fighters were killed in a series of air strikes last week.

Ansar al-Sharia said Tuesday's attack was in revenge for the air strikes on al-Bayda and Abyan provinces, which it blamed on US drones.

Source: Agencies