A general view of the Yemeni port city of Mukalla, on October 13, 2002
A general view of the Yemeni port city of Mukalla, on October 13, 2002 © Khaled Fazaa - AFP/File
A general view of the Yemeni port city of Mukalla, on October 13, 2002
AFP
Last updated: September 30, 2013

Al-Qaeda gunmen seize army HQ in Yemen port city Mukalla

Suspected Al-Qaeda militants seized army headquarters in Yemeni port city Mukalla on Monday, killing two soldiers as a suicide bomber rammed a car into the entrance, a military official said.

Yemeni forces on Monday recaptured an army headquarters seized by Al-Qaeda militants who killed four soldiers and took hostages in Mukalla port, the group's second assault in 10 days, a military official said.

Troops wounded several gunmen and captured others after they stormed the seaside building, the official said, while a medical source in the port city's Ibn Sina hospital said that four soldiers were killed and seven other wounded.

The militants, who numbered around 20, put up little resistance when forces attacked the building, the official said.

Gunmen from Al-Qaeda-linked group Ansar al-Sharia seized the base after a suicide bomber rammed a car into the entrance, a military official said earlier.

The attackers, who were dressed in special forces uniforms and drew up in four military vehicles, then took much of the garrison hostage.

The commander of the army's second military region, General Muhsen Hasan, thought initially to have been captured, was outside the building at the time of the attack, another official said.

Army reinforcements deployed to the area and clashed with the militants.

Mukalla is the capital of Yemen's southeastern Hadramawt province and a major port city.

The three-storey headquarters is built on a cliff, in eastern Mukalla. An army base is located across the road.

"We cannot determine the number of the assailants, nor the number of personnel who are inside," said a military officer earlier, adding that troops outside lost contact with some of the officers held inside was lost around 2:00 pm (1100 GMT).

Monday's attack was Al-Qaeda's second major assault on the Yemeni army in 10 days.

On September 20, suspected Al-Qaeda fighters killed at least 56 soldiers and police in coordinated dawn attacks in Shabwa province further west.

That was the deadliest day for the Yemeni security forces since the army recaptured a string of southern towns from the jihadists in a major offensive last year.

In June 2012, the army recaptured large swathes of the south which Al-Qaeda had held for nearly a year.

Since then, the extremist group has launched mainly hit-and-run attacks, with its members under the constant threat of monitoring and missile attack from unmanned US aircraft.

Washington regards Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula as the global jihadist network's most dangerous affiliate and has stepped up its drone strikes against the group in recent weeks.

Last month, security was beefed up around Western embassies in Sanaa, and some were closed following warnings by Washington of an imminent attack.

President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi said in August that a bid to attack the Balhaf gas terminal on the Gulf of Aden had been foiled after a phone call was intercepted between Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri and AQAP leader Nasser al-Wuhayshi.

Sanaa also said it had foiled an Al-Qaeda plot to storm the Canadian-run Mina al-Dhaba oil terminal and seize the port of Al-Mukalla, capital of the eastern province of Hadramawt.

AQAP has denied plotting any such attacks.

Hadi has repeatedly pledged to press the battle against Al-Qaeda in Yemen, the ancestral homeland of the group's slain leader Osama bin Laden.

Last month, Hadi said a wave of drone strikes on Al-Qaeda targets in August killed 40 militants in two weeks, including some ringleaders in the Sanaa region.

Yemen is holding national reconciliation talks aimed at drafting a new constitution and preparing for elections in February 2014, as stipulated by the Gulf-brokered initiative that eased veteran president Ali Abdullah Saleh out of office in February 2012.

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