October 8, 2014 / 7:59 AM / in 3 years

Al Qaeda attacks south Yemen town of al-Bayda, four soldiers killed

SANAA (Reuters) - Fighters from al Qaeda attacked security and government buildings in al-Bayda in the southern part of Yemen on Wednesday, killing at least four soldiers before they were beaten back, local officials said.

The attack was one of the first by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) Sunni Muslims since Shi'ite Muslim Houthis seized control of the capital Sanaa late last month pledging to destroy Yemen's wing of the Islamist militant movement.

On Tuesday, the Houthis rejected President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi's appointment of a new prime minister and vowed to resist the move, laying the ground for another political standoff.

Local officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said AQAP gunmen, had attacked targets including the provincial administrative building and the special security forces headquarters.

They said the attackers had used guns and rocket propelled grenades in the dawn assault, and residents said they heard explosions across the city.

Al-Bayda is the capital of a province of the same name, located next to the Abyan and Shabwa provinces that have long been the stronghold of AQAP, seen in the West as one of the Islamist militant movement's most active groups.

The official Saba news agency reported that the security forces later repulsed the attack.

AQAP and allied militants in southern and eastern Yemen have staged frequent attacks and assassinations since 2011 against government and other targets despite several army campaigns to eradicate the group from its remote rural strongholds.

Improving stability in Yemen is important for Western and Gulf countries because of its location near major oil exporters and AQAP's use of lawless parts of the country to plan attacks on international airliners and neighboring Saudi Arabia.

The Houthis, who demand more rights for the third of Yemen's 25 million people who follow the Zaydi sect of Shia Islam, took control of the capital on Sept. 21 after their militia advanced on the capital from the country's north over recent months.

Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari; Writing by Angus McDowall; Editing by Louise Ireland

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