Twenty-one separatist fighters and six members of al-Qaeda’s Yemeni branch were killed on Tuesday as an attack by jihadists interrupted months of relative peace in the war-torn country, government and security sources said. .
Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQPA) attacked positions held by the UAE-trained Security Belt Group in Yemen’s southern province of Abyan, the sources told AFP.
The violence came just days after the jihadist group released a video of a United Nations worker it abducted in the same province more than six months ago.
About three hours of fighting “leaved 21 (security belt) dead, including an officer, and six al-Qaeda fighters,” a government official said on condition of anonymity. Two security sources confirmed the death toll.
Yemen has been embroiled in conflict since Iran-backed Houthi rebels seized control of the capital Sanaa in 2014, triggering a Saudi-led military intervention to support the embattled government the following year.
AQAP and militants loyal to the Islamic State group thrived in the chaos.
The Security Belt, a powerful separatist force in southern Yemen, has played a decisive role in the fight against the jihadists, forcing them to retreat from cities to rural areas.
Tuesday’s fighting comes as Huthis and forces supporting the ousted government observe an uneasy ceasefire in the years-long civil war.
Torn by divisions, groups opposed to the Houthis, originating in the north, include southern separatists who support the restoration of South Yemen.
The country was divided into North and South Yemen until reunification in 1990.
Kidnapped UN worker
Highlighting Yemen’s precarious security, AQAP on Saturday released a video showing a United Nations employee who was abducted more than six months ago, the SITE Intelligence Group reported.
Five UN staff members were abducted in Abyan in February as they returned to the port city of Aden after a field mission, the UN spokesman told AFP at the time. Eri Kaneko.
In Saturday’s video message, apparently recorded on August 9, Akam Sofyol Anam urges “the UN, the international community, the humanitarian organizations, to come forward…and respond to the demands of my captors”, without detailing them.
Formed from the merger of the Yemeni and Saudi branches of al-Qaeda, AQAP has carried out attacks against rebel and government targets in Yemen as well as foreigners.
It is accused of plotting attacks beyond the Middle East and its leaders have been the target of US drone warfare for more than two decades, although the number of strikes has declined in recent years.
The UN-brokered ceasefire in Yemen has drastically reduced fighting since the truce began in April, but flare-ups of violence continue.
Last week, 10 Yemeni soldiers were killed in a Houthi attack near Taez, the country’s third city blocked by rebels since 2015.
The assault, which also injured several soldiers, was aimed at cutting off a key route to the southwestern city of around two million people, the government said.
On Thursday, the Huthis staged a military parade in the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah, drawing reprimands from the UN.

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