Yemeni army says retakes militant stronghold of Jaar

ADEN Tue Jun 12, 2012 3:32am EDT

Yemeni army forces fire a missile towards positions of al Qaeda-linked militants in the southern province of Abyan June 10, 2012. REUTERS/Yemen's Defence Ministry/ Handout

Yemeni army forces fire a missile towards positions of al Qaeda-linked militants in the southern province of Abyan June 10, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Yemen's Defence Ministry/ Handout

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ADEN (Reuters) - The Yemeni army has retaken the southern town of Jaar from al Qaeda-linked militants after heavy fighting that killed at least 24 people, the Defense Ministry and residents said on Tuesday.

The capture of Jaar is considered a major victory for the U.S.-backed Yemeni army offensive launched last month to recapture several towns seized by Ansar al-Sharia (Partisans of Islamic Law) during political turmoil in Yemen last year.

The Defense Ministry said the army, backed by local fighters from popular committees set up during last year's uprising against President Ali Abdullah Saleh's rule, entered the city on Tuesday after heavy fighting that killed at least 20 militants and four Yemeni soldiers.

An Ansar al-Sharia spokesman said the army had taken control of the town of more than 100,000 people and said a statement would be issued later.

Residents said the militants fled under cover of darkness, leaving behind flyers asking inhabitants to forgive them and asserting that they did not want to "cause any harm to Jaar and its inhabitants".

(Reporting by Mohammed Mukhashaf, writing by Sami Aboudi, editing by Rania El Gamaland Janet Lawrence)

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