Yemen Qaeda chief killed during fighting
Aden - An al-Qaeda leader and 10 soldiers have been killed in a south Yemen battle, a military source and medics said on Thursday, as a top official said the US had aided a unit besieged in the south.
Ayad al-Shabwani, a leader of the Yemen-based al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), was killed on Tuesday by artillery fire during heavy fighting that continued into Wednesday between the army and suspected al-Qaeda militants near Zinjibar, the capital of Abyan province, the military source said.
He was killed about 4km east of Zinjibar, the source added.
Medical sources said 10 soldiers had been killed and 33 wounded in the fighting.
One medic at a military hospital said it had received nine dead soldiers and 15 wounded on Wednesday night.
And a medic at another hospital in Aden, the south's main city to the west of Zinjibar, said it received 19 wounded soldiers from the 31st Armoured Brigade, and that one had died of his wounds.
Deputy Information Minister Abdo al-Janadi told a news conference in the capital Sanaa that the United States provided logistical support to the 25th Mechanised Brigade, which was besieged by militants in Zinjibar from late May.
"The American forces are helping Yemen in its fight against al-Qaeda" with material support, Janadi said.
"They helped the army by bringing in food supplies when they were besieged by al-Qaeda members," he said, responding to a question about alleged American involvement in Zinjibar.
An official in Abyan said ships and boats believed to be American were seen in the area of Zinjibar.
He also said there had been killings by snipers in the city during the night, which would require night-vision equipment.
A source in the 25th Mechanised Brigade in Zinjibar said: "Our forces were able to lift the siege and kill a large number of terrorists who had besieged us since the end of last May.
"Now, some of the soldiers were able to leave the brigade headquarters and engage in direct clashes with al-Qaeda," he said. "Today, we attack al-Qaeda, unlike the situation a week ago," he added.
The military source said troops had been attacked by militants south of Zinjibar, "resulting in the death and wounding of a number of soldiers", but the attack was repulsed and the soldiers able to progress towards Zinjibar.
Additionally, "units from the 31st Armoured Brigade and the 119th Armoured Brigade launched a number of Katyusha rockets at hideouts of al-Qaeda gunmen in Al-Koud area", south of Zinjibar, "killing and wounding dozens of terrorists", the source added.
A wounded soldier in Aden said: "We were in direct fighting with al-Qaeda partisans in al-Koud area, and we killed a large number of them.
"Our forces headed toward the bridge to Zinjibar and when we arrived there ... armed terrorists opened fire with automatic weapons, killing and wounding a number of us," he said.
"When I recover, I will return to Zinjibar to fight these evil terrorists," he added.
The official Saba news agency had said earlier that "two prominent members of the al-Qaeda leadership were killed ... in Abyan province," naming them as Ayad al-Shabwani and Awad Mohammed Saleh al-Shabwani.
Yemen had said before that Ayad al-Shabwani was killed, along with five other leaders, in a January 15 2010 air strike on a convoy of vehicles. Three days later, AQAP denied that.
Militants from the "Partisans of Shari'ah (Islamic law)," who are believed to be linked to al-Qaeda, took over much of Zinjibar in late May, and have been battling security forces ever since, displacing thousands of residents.
Yemen is the ancestral homeland of veteran al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who was killed in a US commando raid in Pakistan on May 2.
On Tuesday, a Briton was killed in a car bombing in Aden that an intelligence officer said carried the "fingerprints of al-Qaeda".
US commanders have repeatedly expressed concern the jihadists have been taking advantage of a protracted power vacuum in Sana'a to expand their operations.
Since January, protesters have been demanding the ouster of veteran President Ali Abdullah Saleh, in hospital in Saudi Arabia since early June for wounds sustained in a blast at his palace.