Suspected Islamists stage attacks in southern Yemen as Ramadan begins

ADEN Yemen Sat Jun 28, 2014 10:09am EDT

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ADEN Yemen (Reuters) - At least five Yemeni soldiers and four suspected Islamist militants died in two attacks in southern Yemen on Saturday, the state news agency Saba and a local official said, in incidents that coincided with the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Four assailants and two soldiers were killed when suspected militants attacked a hospital in the town of al-Qatan in southeast Yemen, and three soldiers were wounded, Saba said.

In the town of al-Houta in Lahj province, suspected militants on motorbikes attacked a military checkpoint, killing three soldiers, a local official said.

Islamist militants linked to al Qaeda's active Yemen-based wing, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), are pursuing an insurgency across southern Yemen against the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

Saturday was the first day of Ramadan, when militants have in the past called for attacks to be stepped up, apparently in the belief that jihadists who are killed then have a better chance of going to paradise.

On Thursday, six suspected al Qaeda fighters, six soldiers and one civilian woman were killed in a series of attacks in eastern Yemen.

The country has been in turmoil since mass pro-democracy protests in 2011 forced long-serving president Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down.

Apart from al Qaeda attacks, Yemen also faces a separatist movement in the south and a challenge from Shi'ite tribesmen who are trying to cement their control over the north.

Yemen shares a long border with Saudi Arabia, the world's largest oil exporter, which along with the United States is keen to establish stability in Yemen and prevent AQAP using it as a base for attacks on other countries.

(Reporting by Mohammed Mukhashaf; writing by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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