ADEN, Feb 2 (Reuters) - Yemen’s military killed 10 suspected militants in air and artillery strikes on Saturday, a pro-government militia source said, as authorities battle insurgents linked to al Qaeda who seized several southern towns last year.
The assault took place near the town of Shuqra in Abyan province, an impoverished, mountainous region of southern Yemen where tribal law holds sway and Islamist militants have a strong presence.
Tackling lawlessness in Yemen, which lies near important oil shipment routes and flanks the world’s biggest oil exporter Saudi Arabia, is an international priority.
Washington and other Western governments regard Yemen-based al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) as one of the most dangerous offshoots of the militant network. It has planned attacks on international targets including airliners and pledges to topple Saudi Arabia’s ruling family.
Yemen’s military and tribal militias ousted an Islamist group called Ansar al-Sharia, which is affiliated with AQAP, from the towns of Jaar and Zinjibar in Abyan province last year. The militants had imposed sharia law in the towns and raised al Qaeda flags.
On Thursday the army and militias launched an attack on remnants of the Ansar al-Sharia holed up in caves in the area, killing two militants. Five soldiers were also killed.
Yemen, the poorest Arab state, was thrown into political disarray in early 2011 when mass protests against long-time ruler Ali Abdullah Saleh prompted fighting in the capital Sanaa and splits in the military.
Saleh was forced from power a year ago but the transitional government still faces an insurgency by Shi‘ite Muslims in the north, the battle with Sunni Islamists in southern areas and a southern secession movement. (Reporting by Mohammed Mukhashaf; Writing by Angus McDowall in Riyadh; Editing by Pravin Char)