ADEN (Reuters) - Yemen’s new president vowed Monday to pursue militants linked to al-Qaeda to their last hiding place after they killed more than 110 soldiers in their deadliest attack on the Yemeni army.
The militants said they had also captured 70 soldiers in a raid after suicide bomb attacks on two military posts outside the southern city of Zinjibar Sunday, the most lethal attack since President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi took office last month.
Monday, militants from the al Qaeda-linked Ansar al-Sharia paraded military hardware seized in the attacks.
Residents said the militants extolled their “victory” by megaphone in the streets of their stronghold of Jaar, 15 km (10 miles) north of Abyan’s provincial capital of Zinjibar.
“The festivities have been going on since last night, celebrating what they described as gains for Ansar al-Sharia, and they displayed the loot in front of everyone,” said one resident who declined to give his name.
At least 20 militants also died in the fighting.
“We intend to confront terrorism with full force and whatever the matter we will pursue it to the very last hiding place,” Hadi said at a meeting with British Foreign Office minister for the Middle East and North Africa Alistair Burt, according to the state news agency Saba.
The violence highlights the challenges Hadi faces as he tries to stabilize Yemen after a year of political upheaval that eventually unseated his predecessor, Ali Abdullah Saleh.
The campaign against al Qaeda is a key demand of Yemen’s new leader by Washington which had backed his election.
Militants exploited anti-government protests that paralyzed Yemen for most of 2011 to seize the town of Jaar in March last year. Two months later, they captured Zinjibar.
Zinjibar has been the site of regular clashes between the army and Islamist fighters, despite government claims to have “liberated” the city from militants last September.
Last week Ansar al-Sharia said it would unleash a torrent of attacks unless the army pulled its forces from Zinjibar.
A U.S. ally in the fight against al Qaeda, Yemen has allowed Washington to launch drone strikes on militants who regrouped there after suffering reverses in Iraq and Saudi Arabia.
Medics said at least 110 Yemeni soldiers died in the bombings and subsequent clashes with the militants.
The army said it had sent reinforcements to the area from the southern city of Aden Sunday and beat the militants back.
“Reinforcements were sent to the area and it was recaptured. Elements of al Qaeda or Ansar al-Sharia took light weapons and three rocket launchers, but the rest of the weapons were recovered,” said a spokesman for the council that oversees the running of the army, who put the number of soldiers killed in the fighting at 51.
In an attack Monday, militants targeted a power plant in the southern province of Bayda with mortars, knocking it out of service, a police official said.
A soldier was killed when militants later attacked a checkpoint in Baida, he said.
Earlier, gunmen riding a motorcycle opened fire on a car carrying a senior security officer outside Aden, wounding him and a bodyguard, a local official said.
Sunday’s attack was the second in as many days on military targets in the south, and one of at least five the group has claimed since Hadi was sworn in on February 25.
Additional reporting by Mohammed Ghobari in Sanaa; Writing by Isabel Coles and Firouz Sedarat; editing by Tim Pearce