SANAA, (Reuters) – Shi’ite rebels killed three soldiers and abducted a fourth after ambushing their vehicle in north Yemen on Friday, a local official said.
Yemen, one of the poorest Arab countries, has been battling a wave of Al Qaeda attacks, as well as a Shi’ite Muslim rebellion in the north and rising secessionist sentiment in the south. The violence has raised Western fears that it could become a new haven for Islamic militants.
“Houthi supporters had kidnapped two soldiers but one managed to escape,” the official from Saada province told Reuters in the capital Sanaa by telephone. He said the rebels set fire to the soldiers’ armoured personnel carrier before fleeing.
An aide to rebel leader Abdul-Malik al-Houthi claimed responsibility for the attack and told Reuters five soldiers were killed in the ambush.
Meanwhile, the state news agency Saba said Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, in hospital since Tuesday with what the agency said were “bruises” he suffered while exercising, spoke by telephone to his Egyptian counterpart Hosni Mubarak.
Saleh “gave assurances” to Mubarak about his health during the telephone call on Friday, Saba said.
At least eight people were killed on Thursday in clashes between security forces and armed men at an opposition gathering in south Yemen.
Neighbouring Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter, has said it fears instability in Yemen could turn it into a launch pad for Al Qaeda militants to revive their 2003-2006 campaign to destabilise the U.S.-allied Saudi government.