* Ministry says Saudi, Pakistani and Somalis among dead (Updates death toll,
adds militant statement)
By Mohammed Mukhashaf
ADEN, April 11 (Reuters) - Yemen's air force and ground troops killed at
least 62 suspected al Qaeda-linked fighters on Wednesday, officials and
tribal sources said, in the government's latest drive to contain an
increasingly fierce Islamist insurgency.
Militant group Ansar al-Sharia said however only two of its fighters had
been killed in Wednesday's clashes.
Still reeling from a year of political upheaval that eventually unseated
former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemen is grappling with militants who
have been exploiting weakened central government control to spread their
influence, particularly in the country's south.
Local officials and residents said the army killed 30 militants in fighting
on Jebel Yasuf, a mountain around 10 km (6 miles) from the southern town of
Dozens of people have been killed in the Lawdar area since Monday, according
to officials, after Ansar al-Sharia fighters attacked an army camp there.
Tribal sources later said a further 27 militants, including a local
commander called Ahmed Dararish, had been killed by tribal fighters near the
southern entrance to Lawdar. Three tribesmen also died in the clashes.
An air strike on the town of Umm Ayn, around 10 km from Lawdar, killed
another 5 militants, a local official said.
Ansar al-Sharia denied that. In an emailed statement whose authenticity
could not immediately be verified, it said the air raid, which it blamed on
a Saudi war plane, had struck a warehouse belonging to a civilian.
A senior government official said the fighting around Lawdar marked a
turning point in its fight against Ansar al-Sharia (Partisans of Islamic
Law) following a series of defeats.
"The battle of Lawdar is considered a decisive one for the army against the
terrorist groups and a prelude to the cleansing of all towns seized by
militants in the province of Abyan," said the official. He said 10 militants
had also been captured. Ansar al-Sharia said none of its fighters had been
The Defence Ministry said in a text message it had destroyed a number of
checkpoints set up by militants on a main road linking Lawdar to the
neighbouring province of al-Bayda, re-opening the route.
It also cited unnamed military sources as saying that Saudi Arabian,
Pakistani and Somali nationals were among the militants killed in the Lawdar
area. (Reporting by Mohammed Mukhashaf; Writing by Isabel Coles; Editing by
C Thomson Reuters 2012 All rights reserved
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Received on Wed Apr 11 2012 - 11:55:46 EDT