Attack on Yemeni patrol kills 4 soldiers; authorities say 12 militants killed in tense south

SAN'A, Yemen (AP) — Gunmen on motorcycles attacked a military patrol in Yemen's restive south on Wednesday, killing four soldiers and wounding one, a security official said.

The official said an early investigation indicated the attackers were members of al-Qaida, which lately appears to have stepped up high-profile attacks in the south of this impoverished country. He did not provide details.

The attack occurred in the Abyan provincial capital of Zinjibar and brought to 53 the number of soldiers killed by al-Qaida since May, the official said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

Zinjibar was also the scene of a similar attack last month, when masked gunmen riding motorcycles and armed with mortars and rocket propelled grenades attacked two intelligence buildings in the town.

That attack left one security officer and one militant dead, apparently failing to cause more casualties because it took place early in the morning and the buildings were still empty. And in June, an attack on the intelligence headquarters in the southern port of Aden killed 11 security officers and freed an undetermined number of prisoners.

Also Wednesday, Deputy Interior Minister Lt. Gen. Saleh Hussein al-Zouari said that government troops have killed 12 militants and retaken control of another southern town after several days of fighting there.

Al-Zouari said the army began its assault on the town of Lawder, 155 miles (250 kilometers) southeast of the capital, San'a, after 11 soldiers were killed in an al-Qaida ambush Friday.

However, earlier reports about the violence said the clashes in Lawder were between the military and townspeople. The reports could not be independently verified.

Yemen is believed to be a hideout for al-Qaida militants, including the U.S.-born radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who played a key part in the failed terrorist Christmas Day attempt to take down a Detroit-bound passenger jet.

In addition to militants holed up in its lawless hinterland, Yemen is also contending with a six-year rebellion by Shiite tribesmen in the north and a separatist movement in the south, which was once a separate country.