A security official says al-Qaida gunmen attacked a military position in a southern province, touching off fighting that left three militants and two soldiers dead.

The official said the Friday attack in the mountainous al-Thalib region in the militant stronghold of al-Bayda province was repulsed, and nearby army positions responded with heavy artillery shelling.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity according to regulations, said the attack was part of an al-Qaida bid to take positions near Radda, the province capital, which the militants briefly occupied last year but were driven out by government forces.

Al-Qaida overran much of the south in 2011, taking advantage of the turmoil caused by a popular uprising. The army supported by U.S. military experts pushed them back, but clashes continue.