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Gun battle breaks out at Yemeni presidential palace

AFP

Gunmen believed to be linked to al Qaeda attacked Yemen’s presidential palace and attempted to kill the country’s defence minister on Friday, choosing high profile targets in an apparent retaliation for the army’s recent offensive against militants.

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Four soldiers were killed in a gun battle that erupted after militants attacked the main gate of the palace in the capital Sanaa, a security source said. The gunfight reportedly lasted for nearly an hour.

“There was a gunfight that lasted about 45 minutes and then a few of the militants managed to escape with their car,” the source said, adding that security forces in the area were searching for the suspects in a nearby public park.

An explosion was later heard near a building used by the government’s intelligence services in another district of the city, residents told the Reuters news agency. There was no immediate word on the cause of the blast.

Attack on motorcade

In the south, Defence Minister Muhammad Nasir Ahmad escaped an assassination attempt by suspected al Qaeda gunmen, who attacked a motorcade carrying him and a number of senior security officials in the southern province of Shabwa.

The violence capped a turbulent few days both for Yemen and its Western allies. On Monday, a French security agent working for the European Union was shot dead in the capital. Security forces staged raids on suspected militants across Sanaa on Wednesday, shooting a man they said was responsible for the Frenchman’s murder and for a number of other attacks on Westerners.

Citing recent attacks against Western interests in Yemen, the United States closed its embassy in Sanaa to the public on Thursday.

Earlier this month, the government stepped up its campaign against the Yemeni group considered al Qaeda’s most active unit, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), driving it from some of its strongholds in the south.

Air strikes

The push followed air strikes against AQAP in April that the government said had killed at least 55 militants.

The militants have claimed responsibility for attempted bombings of Western airliners and carried out dozens of bomb and suicide attacks, as well as commando-style raids against military installations, government facilities and foreign nationals.

In a separate incident on Friday, four soldiers were killed in an ambush by suspected al Qaeda fighters in the central province of al-Bayda, tribal sources told Reuters.

The militants have posed a threat to government efforts to restore stability to the US-allied country since veteran president Ali Abdullah Saleh was forced to step down in 2012 after months of pro-democracy protests.

Western countries fear that further destabilisation in Yemen, whose government is also being challenged by separatists in the south and unrest in the north, could give more space to AQAP to plot attacks on international targets.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)
 

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