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Al Qaeda Seizes Part of Southern Town in Yemen

As the US makes a full court press on Al Qaeda's leadership, AQAP elements are making a full court press of their own.
By Gabe Kahn.
First Publish: 6/16/2011, 6:40 PM / Last Update: 6/17/2011, 12:13 AM

Islamic terrorists in Yemen launched Wednesday a surprise dawn attack and seized parts of a southern town of Al-Hota after a street by street gunfight with government forces, the Associated Press reports.

Yemeni officials said one soldier was killed and three were wounded in the fighting.

The terrorists, said to include Al Qaeda members numbering between 150 and 200, were in control of several neighborhoods of Hota, the provincial capital of Lahj province, officials confirmed. Some of the terrorists were reportedly deploying in farmlands just outside the city.

Wednesday's attack came a day after US state department counter-terror coordinator Daniel Benjamin said Washington was worried that the ongoing unrest in Yemen could fuel connections between Al Qaeda-linked militants in the Arab nation and Al Shabab insurgents in Somalia.

Witnesses in Houta said some the terrorists involved in the attack had Somali features and did not speak Arabic. Lahj is home to a refugee camp housing several thousand Somalis from across the Red Sea in the Horn of Africa. More than one terror organization, including Al Qaeda, has a foothold with the warlords who run the collapsed, war-torn African nation.

Daniel Benjamin, the State Department's counter-terrorism coordinator, also said terror-insurgents in Yemen were now operating more openly and have been able to acquire and hold more territory. The US has actively stepped up its targeting of terrorists in Yemen and is said to be building a 'secret' Gulf air-base to conduct counter-insurgency operations from.

Yemeni security officials also said Wednesday bands of militants drove through some neighborhoods in the southern port city of Aden opening fire on security forces. The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, related no additional details.

Months of pro-democracy protests against President Ali Abdullah Saleh's 33-year rule have nearly paralyzed the country, leading to severe shortages of electricity, water and fuel.

Shipping sources said a tanker carrying 600,000 barrels of oil arrived at the port of Aden as part of a grant of 3 million barrels promised by Saudi Arabia. The sources said it would go to Aden's refinery, idled since a blast in April cut the pipeline on which it relies.

Gulf Arab states, anxious to see Saleh depart, have watched as Yemen's president, forced to have surgery in Saudi Arabia after an attack on his palace this month, thwarted three diplomatic bids to ease him from power and end a political crisis that is daily deteriorating towards all-out civil war.