Al-Qaida militant dies in botched attack in Yemen

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By AHMED AL-HAJ, Associated Press

SANAA, Yemen (AP) — A suspected al-Qaida militant died Friday in a botched suicide attack on an intelligence office in southern Yemen after his explosives detonated prematurely, security officials said. A civilian who was likely tricked into giving him a ride on a motorcycle also died in the blast.

The bomber was on his way to attack an intelligence office in the city of Mansoura in Aden province when the explosion happened, the officials said. The civilian who was killed probably had no idea about the bomber's plans, they added.

In another southern province, military officials and residents said the army pounded militant hideouts in the city of Jaar, believed to be used by al-Qaida fighters who had overrun the area.

Residents in Jaar said the army fired rockets and shelled barren farmland in a pre-dawn attack Friday that lasted several hours. Military officials said the land was used by al-Qaida as a meeting point and for weapons storage. There was no immediate report of any casualties.

All officials spoke on condition of anonymity, in line with regulations.

For nearly a year, al-Qaida and other militant groups in Yemen have launched bold attacks on the military, while taking advantage of the country's political turmoil to seize control of entire cities and towns in the south.

The military has been waging intense battles in the southern provinces of Abyan, where Jaar is located, and Lahj to rout the militants. The area has seen heavy fighting in the past week after two subsequent militant attacks on Yemeni army bases. Al-Qaida's branch in Yemen, known as Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, is one of the terror movement's most dangerous offshoots.

Yemen's uprising, inspired by Arab revolts elsewhere, forced longtime President Ali Abdullah Saleh out of office in February. His successor, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, was later rubber-stamped as president in a nationwide vote in which he was the only candidate on the ballot. Hadi has vowed to fight al-Qaida while restructuring the armed forces, in which Saleh's loyalists and family members still hold key posts.

Hundreds of thousands of Yemenis on Friday protested across the country in support of reforming the military and purging it of Saleh's loyalists. As part of a U.S.-backed and Gulf-brokered power transfer deal that Saleh signed, the ousted leader handed over power to Hadi, who is to take up the task of reforming Yemen's security bodies.

During the uprising last year, scores of soldiers defected to side with the protesters. They have held sit-ins demanding top officials be sacked, thus further weakening the capabilities of Yemen's armed forces to focus on fighting al-Qaida and other militant groups in the south.

For decades, Saleh stacked key security posts with relatives who remain loyal to him. Their opponents have accused Saleh and his loyalists of allowing al-Qaida to grow in strength as a means of weakening the new government.

On Friday, Human Rights Watch issued a statement saying that "the repressive security apparatus of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh remains largely intact."

The statement said that the Yemeni capital Sanaa and other cities remain divided into zones controlled by an array of military, paramilitary, and tribal forces, and that Hadi's efforts to reorganize them under a central command have stalled. The leadership and membership of these units remain unchanged, the rights group said.

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