'Qaeda,' army clashes kill 20 in Yemen: Ministry

AFP, Friday 20 Apr 2012

Yemen's defence ministry reports death of 18 'Al-Qaeda' militants following clashes between alleged militant group and military forces on outskirts of Zinjibar

Anti-government protesters perform the weekly Friday prayers during a rally to demand the prosecution of the family of former Yemeni President Saleh in Sanaa, April 20, 2012. (Photo: Reuters)

Clashes between 'Al-Qaeda' militants and the army on the outskirts of Zinjibar in Yemen's restive south left 20 people dead, mostly jihadists, as soldiers advanced towards the city, the defence ministry said Friday.

"Eighteen Al-Qaeda militants were killed and dozens wounded while the rest fled" the clashes on the outskirts of the extremists' stronghold of Zinjibar, which Yemeni troops have been trying to retake since May, the ministry's website 26sep.net said.

"Two soldiers were also killed while seven others were wounded" in the clashes that erupted late on Thursday, it said.

AFP could not independently verify the toll.

The ministry said the army had "made a major advance towards Zinjibar, driving out the terrorist Al-Qaeda elements from several positions they held."

Since May 2011, the army has been battling the extremist group's Yemeni branch, known as the Partisans of Sharia (Islamic law), which took over Zinjibar, in an attempt to regain control of the capital of Abyan province.

The website 26sep.net also reported that Islamist insurgents were planning to target gas terminals and companies in Belhaf, Shabwa province, with "six bomb-laden cars driven by six suicide bombers."

"The interior ministry has given orders to Shabwa security services to deal seriously with this information and to take the security measures needed to foil this terrorist plot by Al-Qaeda," it said.

It also urged a tightening of security measures around gas terminals and companies.

Earlier this month, the Islamists sabotaged a 320-kilometre (200-mile) gas pipeline linking Marib province to Belhaf terminal on the Gulf of Aden.

Yemen LNG, which said at the time that production was stopped, said in a statement that the pipeline would restart operations on Friday.

"Six LNG cargoes had to be cancelled further to the sabotage (but) all May cargoes will be loaded on schedule," said the statement on the company's website.

"We will increase LNG production to redeliver as much of the cancelled cargoes as possible before year end," Francois Rafin, general manager of the company, said in the statement.

"We are confident in the prompt reinforcement of the surveillance and protection of the pipeline," said Rafin.

Meanwhile in Sanaa, the interior ministry said it beefed up security around the Saudi embassy and the ambassador's residence, after the kingdom announced Tuesday that 'Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula' was holding a kidnapped Saudi diplomat.

An 'AQAP' member told the Saudi ambassador in a telephone that the group was "responsible for the kidnapping of the deputy consul in Aden, saying their demands include handing over several prisoners to members of the network in Yemen," Saudi news agency SPA said.

'Al-Qaeda' has exploited a decline in Yemeni central government control that accompanied Arab Spring-inspired protests since last year that finally forced president Ali Abdullah Saleh to resign.

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