Suspected al Qaeda militants kill 14 troops in surprise attack in Yemen

Suspected al Qaeda militants attacked a security checkpoint in southeastern Yemen on Monday, killing at least 14 troops and wounding several others, officials said.

The militants launched a surprise attack at dawn on the checkpoint in the town of al-Rayda in Hadramawt province, the officials said. Most of the killed troops -- members of the so-called Central Security Forces -- were gunned down while asleep in their sleeping quarters nearby.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations, said the attackers also set fire to an armored vehicle and another car near the checkpoint.

Yemen's al Qaeda branch, also known as Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, is considered by the U.S. to be the terror group's most dangerous offshoot.

The group increased its footprint in southern Yemen after the country's 2011 uprising that a year later toppled President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who signed a power transfer deal that gave him immunity from prosecution in return for leaving office.

Later Monday, the official SABA news agency said Yemen's newly-appointed Interior Minister Maj. Gen. Abdou Hussein el-Terb suspended three senior security officers pending investigation in the attack. The Interior Ministry is in charge of the Central Security Forces.

SABA said the gunmen, who approached the checkpoint in four cars, used heavy machineguns and fled the scene of the attack.

The suspended officials were Brig. Gen. Fahmi Mahrous, in charge of security in  Hadramawt, Col. Abdel-Wahab al-Waili who commands the CSF, and Maj. Youssef Baras, commander of the attacked checkpoint.

Across Yemen, and especially in the volatile Hadramawt, the new government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi has struggled, with the help of U.S. drone strikes, to push al Qaeda out of strongholds the militants captured during and after the political turmoil surrounding Saleh's ouster.