Gunmen in Yemen have killed 20 soldiers at a checkpoint, the official Saba news agency says of the latest in a wave of attacks blamed on al-Qaeda.
“Twenty soldiers were killed in the armed attack on an army checkpoint” near Reida, 135 kilometres east of the provincial capital Mukalla in the south, Saba said on Monday.
Security sources earlier put the toll at eight dead and six wounded, with one source saying the assault bore all the hallmarks of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
One source said the assault was carried out by gunmen aboard several vehicles.
“The attackers would appear to be in al-Qaeda,” the second military source said of AQAP, which the United States views as the jihadist network’s most dangerous franchise.
Yemen has seen regular attacks on its security forces, usually blamed on AQAP which remains active in the south and east despite several military campaigns to crush it.
On March 18, a suspected al-Qaeda suicide car bombing at a military intelligence headquarters killed one person and wounded 13.
The attacker detonated the car outside the gate to the security building in Tuban, 15 kilometres north of Aden, killing a guard.
That attack came two days after three suspected Al-Qaeda militants, one a Saudi, were killed in the southern province of Shabwa when a car bomb they were preparing apparently detonated accidentally.
Two other alleged members of the extremist network were “seriously wounded” and a nearby house was “partially destroyed,” a tribal source told AFP at the time.
Yemen is the ancestral home of Osama bin Laden and the home base of AQAP.
The United States launches regular drone attacks in support of Sanaa’s campaign against al-Qaeda and has killed dozens of militants in a sharply intensified campaign over the past year.
A tribal source on March 21 said a drone strike killed a local al-Qaeda chief and his bodyguard in the northeast.
The unmanned plane fired a missile at a vehicle transporting militants in the Jebel Jame area of Jawf province, the source said.
The US military operates all drones flying over Yemen.
The drone strikes have triggered criticism from rights activists, who say they have killed many innocent civilians.
The United Nations said 16 civilians were killed and at least 10 wounded when two separate wedding processions were targeted in December.
The victims had been mistakenly identified as members of al-Qaeda, the UN quoted local security officials as saying at the time.
Following the deaths, Yemen’s parliament voted for a ban on drone strikes, but analysts say MPs have limited powers and are unlikely to have an impact on Washington’s campaign.
The United States says drones are an essential part of its “war on terror”.
The militants executed one of their own earlier this month after accusing him of spying for the United States.
He was executed by firing squad and his body was displayed at a football stadium near Shehr in Hadramawt province, a security official said.
AQAP took advantage of the weakening of the central government in Sanaa after a popular uprising that began in 2011 forced president Ali Abdullah Saleh from power early the following year.