ADEN - At least 46 people were killed in a third day of clashes on Wednesday between Yemeni soldiers backed by tribesmen and Al-Qaeda militants trying to take over a strategic town in the south, local sources said.
“Twenty-nine Al-Qaeda militants and three tribesmen were killed” in the battles raging on the outskirts of Loder, the Abyan province town that the extremists have been trying to retake, one source said.
Another source added that 12 more Al-Qaeda militants died after “what was apparently an American drone carried out four raids on the Al-Ain area south of Loder.”
The tribesmen, who are residents of Loder, have formed “resistance committees” to prevent the militants from entering their town.
Sixteen Al-Qaeda militants, among them two local leaders, were also captured, tribal sources said.
The latest deaths raised the toll to 168 people killed, most of them Islamist insurgents, since they raided army barracks on Monday. Residents in Loder, who confirmed that the battles were ongoing, said two air strikes by Yemeni forces also targeted the southern entrances of the town.
Local sources said that the fighting was concentrated near a power plant at the southern entrance to Loder.
“Al-Qaeda militants are still insisting on taking over the town,” said the source.
Loder lies some 150 kilometres (95 miles) northeast of Zinjibar, the Abyan capital that militants of the Al-Qaeda-linked Partisans of Sharia (Islamic law) overran last May.
Al-Qaeda briefly seized Loder in August 2010 before being driven out by the army.
A tribal source said the militants wanted to recapture it because of its position between Shabwa, Bayda and Lahij provinces where Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, is also active.
Monday’s attack had followed a series of air strikes that killed 24 suspected Al-Qaeda militants in their southern and eastern strongholds.
The United States considers the Yemen-based AQAP to be the most deadly and active branch of the global terror network.