Middle East
Heavy Yemeni troop losses reported in raid
Attack on army bases in country's south said to have claimed lives of 185 soldiers and al-Qaeda linked fighters.
Last Modified: 06 Mar 2012 11:23
 Al-Qaeda linked fighters first took control in outskirts of Zinjibar during protests against Saleh's rule [EPA]

Scores of government soldiers and al-Qaeda-linked fighters have died in clashes in southern Yemen, according to medical and military officials.

Officials on Tuesday raised death toll to 185 soldiers killed, after, on Monday, raising the casualty count to at least 139 since fighting began on Sunday in Abyan province.

Military officials said on Tuesday that more bodies had been recovered from a nearby desert area.

At least 25 attackers were also reported dead, and scores more soldiers and al-Qaeda fighters were also wounded,  officials and medics said on Tuesday.

Sunday's violence alone is believed to have left 107 soldiers and 32 fighters dead.

The attack on army bases outside Zinjibar, Abyan's capital, also led to the capture of 55 soldiers by the fighters, the officials said.

The captives were paraded on the streets of Jaar, a nearby town that, like Zinjibar, has been under al-Qaeda's control for about a year.

A military official, speaking to the AFP news agency, said dozens more Yemeni soldiers had been injured in surprise attacks on army posts on the outskirts of Zinjibar and described the clashes as a "massacre".

A health official in the military hospital in the southern port city of Aden, speaking on condition of anonymity, said "many soldiers died from wounds sustained in the assault" on army posts in the Zinjibar outskirts.

The official said the fighting was taking place west of Zinjibar. Al Qaeda-linked fighters seized control of the town in May, taking advantage of political turmoil linked to the uprising against the former Yemeni president, Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Weapons on display

Residents on the streets of Jaar, a stronghold town 15km north of Zinjibar, said fighters from the al Qaeda-linked Ansar al-Sharia displayed weapons and military vehicles, announcing their "victory" by megaphone.

"The festivities have been going on since last night, celebrating what they described as gains for Ansar al-Sharia, and they displayed the loot in front of everyone," one resident who declined to give his name said.

Yemeni journalists say officials tipped the fighters off

Speaking to Al Jazeera on Monday, Hakim al-Masmari, an editor at the Yemen Post newspaper, said reporters at the publication have found evidence that "senior officials in the Yemeni regime gave al-Qaeda fighters some important intelligence information, confidential information, of where and how to attack the military bases".

Without the information provided to them by the senior military officials within the government of Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, a "massacre" of this nature would not be possible, he said.

The infiltration of military bases by the al-Qaeda linked group has put "a huge amount of weapons ... [that are] very critical for the safety of the country" in the hands of the fighters, Masmari said.

The attack and the subsequent threat will require a major shake-up of military brass in Abyan, he said.

Referring to President Hadi's calls for reforms, Masmari said the Yemeni president "will have a very, very difficult time" in terms of reforming the military.

Latest battle

The fighting outside Zinjibar is the latest in a spate of attacks against security forces since Hadi took over from Saleh on February 25 under a Gulf Co-operation Council brokered transition accord.

On the day Hadi was sworn in, pledging to carry on Saleh's fight against al-Qaeda in the south, a suicide bomber blew up his vehicle outside a presidential palace in the southeastern province of Hadramawt, killing 26 soldiers.

Late on Saturday, hours after a similar suicide attack killed a soldier in southwest Yemen, suspected al-Qaeda fighters shot dead a police officer in Hadramawt.

And on Sunday, Abdullah Idris, the head of Saleh's General People's Congress party branch in Rada, a town southeast of Sanaa, was "seriously" wounded when his car exploded, a military official said.

His two companions were also wounded in the blast in Rada, which al-Qaeda briefly captured in mid-January, the same source said.

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