ADEN (Reuters) - At least five Yemeni government soldiers were killed on Tuesday when two al Qaeda suicide bombers tried to drive cars laden with explosives into a military compound in the country’s east, the defense ministry said.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) claimed responsibility for the attack on the headquarters of the First Military Command base in Seyoun, the second largest city in Hadramout province, in a statement on its Twitter account. It said dozens had been killed and wounded in the attacks.
AQAP, which operates in eastern Yemen, has frequently attacked military and government facilities with car bombs in a campaign to undermine the Western-backed government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
Yemen has been in turmoil since 2011 pro-democracy protests forced long-ruling President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down.
The country’s crisis worsened when Shi‘ite Houthi fighters, officially known as Ansarullah, seized the capital Sanaa in September and expanded their control further south and west, leading to clashes with AQAP and allied Sunni tribes.
Witnesses said gunshots rang out amid the blasts at the compound and reported plumes of smoke rising into the air.
The Yemeni Defence Ministry said on its news website that soldiers at the entrance to the compound foiled an al Qaeda attempt to drive the two booby-trapped cars inside, destroying the vehicles outside the gate. It said five soldiers were killed and four were wounded.
Security sources had earlier said that eight people were wounded in the assault.
Western and Gulf Arab countries fear instability in Yemen could strengthen AQAP, considered the most dangerous branch of the global militant group. AQAP has mounted attacks against top oil exporter Saudi Arabia and plotted to bring down international airliners.
In an earlier attack in Hadramout, al Qaeda militants killed two Yemeni soldiers when they attacked a military checkpoint with rocket propelled grenades and automatic fire on Monday, a local official said. The official said two other soldiers were wounded in the attack in the city of al-Shehr.
On Saturday, at least 11 people were killed alongside two Western hostages when U.S.-led forces fought Islamist militants in a failed rescue mission in Yemen, residents said.
Reporting by Mohammed Mukhashaf; Writing by Noah Browning; Editing by Sami Aboudi and Catherine Evans