`Militants fleeing embattled city in southern Yemen`
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Last Updated: Tuesday, August 24, 2010, 16:00
Aden: Suspected Al-Qaeda fighters were fleeing the embattled city of Loder in southern Yemen following gunbattles and an assault by government forces in which dozens have died, the interior ministry said Tuesday.

In the latest fighting, "Four Al-Qaeda members were killed while the rest fled after evacuating their injured," a ministry statement said.

"The chiefs of the terrorist elements have started to flee" Loder, the ministry said.

Civilians had hurried out of the southern city in the restive Abyan province in the wake of an army siege that followed clashes which began on Friday.

An army search of homes where the militants were barricaded had found a large stash of weapons, including rockets and anti-tank weapons, the ministry said.

At least 33 people, among them 11 soldiers, 19 suspected militants and three civilians, have been killed since the clashes erupted, according to an AFP count based on official and medical sources.

Authorities said Adel Saleh Hardaba, 27, whom they described as the Al-Qaeda second-in-command in Loder, was among the dead.

Witnesses said the fighting had intensified after Sunday night, when an ultimatum to militants to surrender had expired.

The army had distributed pamphlets urging any civilians left in Loder, which has a population of 80,000, to leave.

Security officials had told AFP at the weekend that civilians had mostly fled the city and that "only gunmen are left." Many of the militants were believed to be foreigners, notably Saudis and Pakistanis.

South Yemen, and Abyan province in particular, is feared to have become a base for Al-Qaeda militants to regroup under the network's local franchise, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).


First Published: Tuesday, August 24, 2010, 16:00

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