Four dead in south Yemen blasts, al Qaeda blamed

SANAA Sat Mar 3, 2012 1:44pm EST

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SANAA (Reuters) - Two suicide bombers drove a car packed with explosives into a Yemeni army base in the southern province of al-Bayda on Saturday, killing one soldier, the Defence Ministry said, in an attack for which al Qaeda claimed responsibility.

Another soldier was killed by one of two blasts aimed at a central security forces building in the southern coastal town of Mukalla, where a March 25 suicide bombing killed at least 26 people. Authorities said they had made several arrests.

Militants linked to al Qaeda have exploited political upheaval to strengthen their foothold in Yemen, particularly in the south which is also home to rising secessionist sentiment.

Yemen's south has been mired in violence since protests against former President Ali Abdullah Saleh took hold early last year, weakening already loose central government control over whole swathes of the country.

Saturday's attack in al-Bayda, which targeted barracks of the Republican Guard forces, came just days after the interior ministry said it had information about an al Qaeda plot to blow up eight cars in the capital Sanaa and the port city of Aden.

"The explosion was very loud and took place in Dar al-Nasr, which is a military site of the Republican Guard," said an opposition website.

"Residents of the town were frightened by the force of the blast, which was felt more than two kilometers away and damaged dozens of neighboring houses and blew their windows out."

In a text message sent to Reuters, al Qaeda claimed responsibility for the attack it said was revenge for crimes committed by the Republican Guard. There was no way to verify if the text was from the militants but they have used the method to communicate with media in the past.

The group similarly claimed responsibility for assassinating the security chief in the town of Shibam on Saturday in southern Hadramout province, where a local security source said gunmen fired on the official's car, killing him instantly.

The United States, wary of al Qaeda entrenchment in Yemen, backed a plan brokered by Yemen's wealthy Gulf Arab neighbors under which Saleh handed over power to his deputy last month and secured himself immunity from prosecution.

The suicide bombing in Mukalla last month coincided with the swearing in of new President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi and also targeted the Republican Guard, led by Saleh's son. Al Qaeda's Yemen-based wing claimed responsibility for that attack as well.

On Friday, gunmen opened fire on a U.S. security team as it trained Yemeni soldiers in the south.

(Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari in Sanaa and Mohammed Mukhashaf in Aden; Writing by Isabel Coles; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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