ADEN, (Reuters) – The commander of a tribal militia fighting Islamists in southern Yemen has survived an assassination attempt by gunmen suspected of belonging to al Qaeda, a local official said.
Abdul Latif al-Sayed, a commander with the Popular Committees which in June helped the government to oust an Islamist group from the towns of Zinjibar, Azzan and Shaqra after a year-long occupation, was ambushed on a road in Abyan Province on Friday.
The Popular Committees fought alongside government forces battling Ansar al-Sharia, an Islamist group that seized control of swathes of the south during Yemen’s political turmoil last year and gave sanctuary to al Qaeda fighters.
The United States has used unmanned drones to target the al Qaeda group in Yemen, which has planned attacks on international targets including airliners and is described by Washington as the movement’s most dangerous wing.
One of Sayed’s bodyguards was killed and two other men were wounded in the attack, which was the fourth assassination attempt on Sayed, including a suicide bombing at a funeral last month that killed two of his brothers and 43 other people.
“The army, police and tribal fighters chased the gunmen who fled into one of the rugged valleys nearby where there were clashes between the two sides,” said the south Yemen government official, who declined to be named.
Mass anti-government protests erupted early last year, causing fighting between tribes and different factions of the army, before former president Ali Abdullah Saleh stepped down in February to allow a transition towards democracy.
Aid groups have warned of a major humanitarian crisis in the Arabian Peninsula state, where half the population live under the poverty line.
As well as fighting the insurgency by Islamists in Abyan, the government also faces conflict with southern sessionistists and with the Houthi group of Zaidi Shi’ite Muslims in north Yemen.