SANAA // At least 12 Yemeni tribesmen were killed on Sunday in two suicide attacks by Al Qaeda-linked militants in the province of Abyan.
Nine people were killed and more than 20 others wounded when a suicide bomber rammed an explosives-laden car into a checkpoint near the town of Shaqra.
The militants followed the car bomb with a mortar attack against the tribesmen, which triggered a firefight that lasted for hours.
In an earlier attack, a suicide bomber killed Sheikh Abubakr Ashal, the chief of the Ashal tribe, and two others when he blew himself up in front of the sheikh's house in Moudia city, about 30 kilometres from Zinjibar.
Sheikh Ashal and one of his companions were killed instantly, while the third victim, a soldier, died of his wounds in hospital, a tribal source said.
He added that Sheikh Ashal played an important role in mobilising tribal fighters against the militants known as Ansar Al Shariah, and who were believed to have links with Al Qaeda. Yemen has been the home to the terror group called Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
The Yemeni tribesmen siding with government forces have in the past few weeks been locked in battle with suspected Al Qaeda militants in Abyan, especially in Zinjibar.
Also over the weekend, tribesmen in Raimah province supporting the uprising against the regime of Ali Abdullah Saleh, the Yemeni president, blocked a military convoy of more than 100 vehicles that was on its way to Sanaa. The convoy was about 170km from the capital.
Tribal source said that three tanks and nine vehicles were damaged. The defence ministry said in a statement on Saturday that the army had repulsed the attack but did not provide information on casualties.
Mr Saleh has been facing growing international pressure to transfer power after months of protests in the country calling for him to step down.
He has been in Saudi Arabia since early June recovering from injuries suffered in an attack on the mosque at the presidential compound in Sanaa.
Despite pressure from the Saudis and the United States not to return to Yemen, Mr Saleh said last week from Riyadh that he would be back soon.
* With additional reporting by Associated Press, Reuters and Bloomberg News