A suicide car bomber has targeted an army checkpoint in southern Yemen, killing at least eight soldiers and wounding 10 others, local officials said.
Monday’s attack in the town of Radda was likely a retaliatory move by al-Qaeda fighters after Yemeni forces earlier in the day shelled gunmen, who Sanaa is accusing of holding three Western hostages in the southern province of al-Bayda, one of the officials said.
The move came after days of unsuccessful mediation efforts by local tribal leaders, the websites Mareb Press and Al-Masdar Online reported.
The leaders had sought to persuade tribal sheikh Abdel-Ilah al-Dhahab to release two Finns and an Austrian kidnapped in the capital Sanaa in December and to expel al-Qaeda fighters that the authorities accused him of sheltering.
Al-Dhahab, whose brother Abdel-Raouf has been accused of being a leader of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, had denied that the three Westerners were being held in his mountain stronghold near Radaa town.
He had also demanded that the government end air raids against suspected fighters, Mareb Press reported.
Army and special force units sent from Sanaa arrived in Radaa last week in preparation for the move against the suspected fighters.
Fighters linked to al-Qaeda controlled parts of southern Abyan and Shabwa provinces for about a year until they were expelled in a military campaign in mid-2012.
Since then they are thought to be sheltering in remote areas of central and eastern Yemen.
Air raids, mainly carried out by US drones, have repeatedly targeted suspected fighters in al-Baida and other areas.
The strikes have increased in frequency in recent weeks, with seven apparent drone strikes recorded since January 19, according to the Britain-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which tracks the raids.
President Abd Rabu Mansour Hadi has repeatedly expressed his determination to eliminate al-Qaeda and has said that drone strikes take place with the Yemeni government’s approval, despite protests at civilian casualties.