Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for twin suicide car bomb attacks Tuesday that killed seven soldiers in Yemen, as fresh violence shook the increasingly unstable country where rival militias are battling for control.
The attacks targeted an army headquarters in Yemen's southeast, a stronghold of Al-Qaeda where two hostages -- an American photojournalist and a South African teacher -- were killed by militants during a failed rescue attempt on Saturday.
Yemen, an important US ally bordering oil-rich Saudi Arabia, has been wracked by months of growing violence after a powerful Shiite militia seized control of the capital.
Military sources said Tuesday's attacks saw two explosive-laden vehicles detonated at the base in the town of Seiyun in Hadramawt province.
"Seven soldiers were killed and eight others wounded," one source said, adding that the blasts came shortly after the arrival of a convoy carrying a general, who was unharmed.
Another source said one of the vehicles exploded at the entrance to the headquarters complex while the other managed to make it about 30 metres (yards) inside before exploding after hitting an army vehicle.
Ansar al-Sharia, the main arm of Al-Qaeda in Yemen, said in a statement on Twitter that two of its "martyrs" had carried out the attacks, which it claimed left "dozens of dead and wounded".
Troops foiled a "third suicide bombing" that targeted an army checkpoint at the entrance of the nearby town of Shibam, a military official said.
"Troops opened fire at the vehicle 150 metres before it reached the checkpoint" and it exploded, the official said. He did not say if the blast caused any casualties.
A bomb also exploded in a square in Seiyun near a local government building, residents said, but there were no immediate reports of casualties.
Elsewhere in Hadramawt province, suspected Al-Qaeda militants late on Monday killed two soldiers and wounded a third in an ambush in the town of Shehr, a security source said.
Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) frequently targets Yemeni security forces with attacks.
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- Rising violence, instability -
Yemen has allowed the United States to carry out a longstanding drone war on its territory against AQAP, considered by Washington as the most dangerous affiliate of the jihadist network.
US special forces on Saturday tried to free two hostages being held by AQAP -- American Luke Somers, 33, and South African Pierre Korkie, 57.
The two were killed by their captors when commandos stormed the AQAP hideout where they were being held in southeastern Yemen, according to US officials.
A charity said Korkie had been due to be released the next day under a negotiated deal. His body was flown home to South Africa early on Tuesday, the Gift of Givers charity said.
Impoverished Yemen has seen rising political and military chaos since the Shiite militia, known as Huthis, swept south from their northern stronghold to capture Sanaa in September, before extending their influence into the centre and west of the country.
The militia, also known as Ansarullah, has been delaying a pullback it agreed to under a UN-brokered accord, while clashing with government forces, local Sunni tribes and Al-Qaeda militants.
This has eroded the authority of President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi's government, which has struggled to impose its rule after a year of bloody anti-regime protests forced long-time president Ali Abdullah Saleh from office in early 2012.
Authorities are also trying to cope with a longstanding separatist movement in southern areas of the country, where an independent South Yemen existed from the end of British colonial rule in 1967 until union with the north in 1990.
Yemeni security forces on Monday fired live ammunition and tear gas at separatist demonstrators in the southern port city of Aden, witnesses said. It was unclear if there were casualties.
The continuing unrest has raised fears that Yemen, which is also on key shipping routes from the Suez Canal to the Gulf, could become a failed state that fuels instability across the region.