Six police killed in Yemen attack

Suspected al Qa'eda militants attacked a government patrol in the southern province of Shabwa, spraying it with bullets and rocket-propelled grenades.

SANA'A // Suspected al Qa'eda militants attacked a government patrol in the southern province of Shabwa, spraying it with bullets and rocket-propelled grenades and sparking a fight that left nine dead, the government said yesterday. The attack occurred on Sunday in the town of Aqla, and among the dead were six policemen and three al Qa'eda militants, including a senior leader identified as Zayed al Dagheri, the Yemen's defence ministry website quoted Ahmed Ali al Makdashi, the security director of Shabwa, as saying.

Sunday's attack was the fourth since June, and second in three days, on highly guarded targets and blamed on al Qa'eda in the Arabian Peninsula. On Thursday, an ambush killed five policemen and wounded another as they were guarding an installation belonging to an Austrian oil company, 45km east of Shabwa's provincial capital, Ataq. The same al Qa'eda group was responsible for both attacks, Mr Makdashi said. Shabwa province is believed to be a hideout for al Qa'eda militants, including the US-born cleric Anwar al Awlaki, who allegedly helped orchestrate a failed attempt in December to bring down a civilian aircraft bound from Amsterdam to the US city of Detroit.

In the north yesterday, at least 10 people were killed as Houthi rebels clashed with the government-backed al Aziz tribe in Harf Sufian, 100 km north of the capital Sana'a. Al Houthis took over an army base in the fighting, the rebels and officials said. According to local sources, more than 30 people have been killed and injured in the confrontations since the breakdown of the ceasefire on Sunday, which was mediated by tribal leaders. Last week, al Qa'eda in the Arabian Peninsula claimed responsibility for attacks this month and last month on security and intelligence installations in the southern Yemen town of Zinjibar, in which three people were killed. In its statement, the group vowed to continue its fight in Yemen until President Ali Abdullah Saleh's government is toppled. Naser Ahmed al Bahri, a former bodyguard of Osama bin Laden, said yesterday the government's errors in governing the south and the resulting anger of the people who reside there help al Qa'eda move easily in the region. South Yemen and North Yemen united in 1990.

"Al Qa'eda is making use of the mistakes of the government here and there as well as its weakness to boost their presence among the people who loathe and despise the government. This resentment of the public towards the government is a good fuel for al Qa'eda and one of the main motives behind a surge of its attacks on the government interests," Mr al Bahri said an interview with The National. Although he expects the confrontation between government and militant forces in Yemen only to grow, Mr al Bahri insisted that talks were the only alternative. "There is no way out from this situation except dialogue, which should be conducted by top religious clerics who can have influence on the militants," said the former al Qa'eda ally, who served as bin Laden's bodyguard from 1997 to 2000. He was imprisoned after militants attacked the USS Cole in Aden in October 2000. He was later released from jail after renouncing violence.