SANAA (Reuters) - An al Qaeda suspect tried to shoot his way out of hospital in Yemen’s capital on Sunday and killed a guard, while security forces and separatists clashed in the south of the country with five wounded.
The suspected al Qaeda militant snatched a gun from one of two intelligence agents guarding his room and opened fire, a hospital administrator said. One of the agents was killed and the other wounded, a security official said.
A Defense Ministry website identified the suspect, who was apprehended, as a German citizen of Somali origin.
More gunmen opened fire at the hospital gate as the al Qaeda suspect tried to escape, the administrator added.
“I saw smoke rising from the window of one storey of the hospital, and heard the screams of people who were inside,” said a journalist, who was at the hospital when shooting erupted.
Yemen became a major Western security concern after the Yemen-based regional arm of al Qaeda claimed responsibility for a failed attempt to bomb a U.S.-bound plane in December.
Hospital sources said the suspected militant was apprehended, but the gunmen at the hospital gate escaped.
A security official said the suspect had been among 11 al Qaeda suspects held this week in the capital Sanaa.
Western allies and neighbouring Saudi Arabia fear al Qaeda is exploiting instability in impoverished Yemen to recruit and train militants for attacks in the region and beyond.
Yemen has stepped up control of tens of thousands of Somali refugees after Somali Islamist rebels said in January they were ready to send reinforcements to al Qaeda in Yemen.
As well as fighting al Qaeda, Yemen is trying to contain separatist tension in the south and end a northern Shi’ite insurgency. Last month, facing international pressure to focus on al Qaeda, Sanaa declared a truce in the northern conflict.
In south Yemen on Sunday, security forces clashed with separatist gunmen who blocked an intercity road, and five people were wounded in the ensuing gunbattle near the city of Dalea that was the scene of clashes on Saturday.
And in the southern city of Zinjibar, a man was killed when an explosive device he was trying to set up at the local offices of the ruling party went off, a party official said.
Escalating violence between government troops and separatists in Yemen’s southern provinces has left several dead on both sides in recent weeks, even as separate violence in Yemen’s north has eased.
“The southern movement cut off a road linking Dalea to Sanaa and security forces clashed with them. The confrontation lasted half an hour,” a government official said, adding the separatists used rocks to block a road between Dalea and Sanaa.
The official said three security men and two separatists were hurt. Residents said all five wounded were security forces.
North and South Yemen united in 1990 but many in the south, site of most of Yemen’s oil facilities, complain northerners have seized resources and discriminate against them.
Analysts say the government is also using the battle against al Qaeda to turn on its other opponents in the country.
In Dalea, sporadic gunfire continued to punctuate what residents described as a shaky calm following unrest on Saturday when troops raided a number of houses, sparking clashes with armed groups. At least 15 people were wounded in the unrest.
A government official had said Saturday’s violence broke out when soldiers tried to arrest suspects in the recent killing of a local intelligence official. Up to 50 people were arrested in Saturday’s sweeps, bringing the number of people arrested over the past month to well over 200.
Additional reporting by Mohamed Sudam in Sanaa and Mohammed Mukhshaf in Aden; Writing by Cynthia Johnston and Firouz Sedarat; Editing by Charles Dick