Suspected al-Qaida militants kill 17 Yemeni troops in surprise attacks

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By AHMED AL-HAJ, Associated Press

SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Suspected al-Qaida militants launched surprise attacks on Friday on a checkpoint and a police patrol in Yemen, killing 17 troops, military and security officials said.

The first attack took place in the ancient city of Shibam in the restive province of Hadramawt, where attackers surprised the soldiers as they were having lunch and battled them for nearly half an hour before fleeing the scene, officials said. Fifteen troops were killed.

At least five of the attackers were hit and either killed or wounded, but militants carried them away, they said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.

Earlier, gunmen targeted a police patrol in the central province of Bayda, killing two, said Adel al-Asbahi, the provincial security chief.

Yemen, the Arab world's poorest country, has been plagued by troubles including a powerful al-Qaida insurgency in the south and in much of its remote hinterland, a rebel Shiite movement in the north and a separatist drive, also in the south.

Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, the group's branch in Yemen, is considered by Washington as the network's most dangerous offshoot. The U.S. routinely targets suspected militants from the group in drone strikes.

The group seized large swaths of lands in the south before the military launched a major offensive in the summer of 2012, driving many of them out. The group has continued to carry out ambitious and deadly attacks, including storming the Defense Ministry headquarters leaving 56 dead last month, including foreigners.

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