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An al-Qaida attack in Yemen kills 5 troops loyal to a secessionist group, officials say

SANAA, Yemen (AP) — An attack by al-Qaida in southern Yemen killed at least two troops loyal to a secessionist group, officials said Monday, in the first attack since the extremist group’s branch in the Arab country announced the death of its leader earlier this month.

The attack, which took place late Sunday in the mountainous Wadi Omran area of Abyan province, also wounded four troops from the Southern Armed Forces, which is loyal to the secessionist Southern Transitional Council, according to a statement from the southern forces.

The separatist council is backed by the United Arab Emirates and controls much of Yemen’s south. It is at odds with the internationally recognized government, although they are allies in the war against the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels.

The statement said the militants ambushed a security patrol in the area, triggering hourslong gunbattles. The militants burned a military vehicle, according to Lt. Col. Khalid Alwai.

The ambush came as the southern forces have intensified their attacks in recent weeks on an al-Qaida stronghold in Wadi Omran, the statement said.

The al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula group, or AQAP, claimed responsibility for the attack. The claim was posted on al-Qaida-linked channels on Telegram with images of the burned vehicle.

AQAP is seen as one of the more dangerous branches of the extremist group that is still operating more than a decade after the killing of founder Osama bin Laden. It is active in several regions in Yemen, exploiting the country’s yearslong conflict to cement its presence in the impoverished nation.

Yemen’s ruinous civil war began in 2014 when the Houthis seized the capital of Sanaa and much of northern Yemen and forced the internationally recognized government into exile. A Saudi-led coalition including the UAE intervened the next year to try to restore the government to power.

Sunday’s attack came after AQAP announced the death of its leader, Khalid al-Batarfi, earlier this month, without giving details. It named Saad bin Atef al-Awlaki as the new leader of the group.

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