Gunmen believed to be linked to al-Qaeda have kidnapped and killed 14 Yemeni soldiers returning home from duty, local officials and residents say.
Residents found the bodies of the men on a road near the city of Seiyoun in Hadramout province, three hours after they were abducted from a public bus on Friday.
The soldiers were travelling by bus from Seiyoun towards the capital Sanaa. A witness told Al Jazeera that fighters stopped the bus and took the soldiers by force, then executed them by knife and left their bodies on the road.
Another report said the bodies were riddled with bullets.
Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) said on its official Twitter account that the group had executed the 14 soldiers.
Yemeni security have killed at least 25 suspected fighters in a series of confrontations in the Wadi Hadramout area in the past week, including seven killed on Thursday when they tried to attack an army facility.
President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi has recently ordered extra troops to the area after the fighters distributed leaflets suggesting they wanted to declare an Islamic emirate in Seiyoun and ordered women not to go out without a male guardian.
Local officials and residents said the soldiers killed had been travelling to visit families in Sanaa.
"It looks as if it was an act of revenge," an official said.
AQAP, emboldened by a power vacuum in the political turmoil following a 2011 uprising that ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh, is trying to carve out areas of dominance in south and east Yemen.
The group, formed in early 2009 as the result of a merger between the Yemeni and Saudi branches of al-Qaeda, has emerged over the past few years as perhaps the most active al-Qaeda branch.
Friday's attack follows recent gains by the army against the fighters, who have been trying to consolidate their control over the volatile Wadi Hadramout area of eastern Yemen.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies