|Security has collapsed across much of Yemen as a result of the uprising against President Ali Abdullah Saleh [EPA]|
Yemeni troops have killed seven al-Qaeda-linked fighters including an Iranian, a Pakistani and two Somali nationals, in the latest fighting in a turbulent southern province, a security official has said.
The official said on Wednesday that the seven people were killed when the army shelled the headquarters of the local government and the offices of the internal security agency in Zinjibar, provincial capital of Abyan.
The security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to talk to reporters, said the latest violence in Zinjibar began late on Tuesday and continued through Wednesday.
The fighting is part of the army’s campaign to regain control of Zinjibar and other areas in the south that have fallen into the hands of the fighters since March.
The fighting has forced at least 100,000 residents to flee Abyan province and find refuge in the nearby port city of Aden.
Zinjibar has been held by the fighters since May.
Security has collapsed across much of Yemen as a result of the uprising against President Ali Abdullah Saleh, allowing fighters to take advantage of the turmoil to expand their reach beyond Yemen’s remote hinterlands.
Critics accuse Saleh, Yemen’s leader of 33 years, of turning a blind eye to the growing strength of the armed groups to support his argument that al-Qaeda would take control of the Arab nation if he were to leave office.
The US has supported Yemen’s military in the south and carried out its own strikes against al-Qaeda leaders there, most notably the September 30 killing of al-Qaeda’s US-born cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki.
Washington views Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, as the Yemeni branch of the network is known, as one of its most dangerous enemies.
It blames it for a string of attempted attacks on US soil and elsewhere.
Meanwhile, tens of thousands of people marched in Sanaa on Wednesday, inspired by Arab League discussions to suspend Syria from the bloc.
The anti-government protesters urged the regional grouping to do the same with Yemen as they marched from Change Square, the epicentre of anti-government demonstrations, towards Al-Hasaba, north of the capital, through various neighbourhoods, including one that houses the presidential compound.
“Arab League, we demand the freezing of [Yemeni] membership,” shouted the protesters.
“No immunity for the killer,” they chanted, in reference to a Gulf plan under which Saleh would step down in return for immunity from prosecution for himself and his family.
Witnesses said troops loyal to Saleh fired into the air to disperse the crowd but no injuries were reported.
Activists say at least 500 protesters have been killed and thousands more wounded since the uprising began in February.