At least 24 people have been killed as al-Qaeda militants raided an army barracks in Yemen, the latest in a spate of attacks by the terrorist network, which has boosted its presence across the country's lawless south and east.
"Fifteen al-Qaeda gunmen were killed in clashes with members of the 111th Brigade in Loder in Abyan province," a stronghold of the terrorist network, the defence ministry reported on Monday.
A local source in the town of Jaar, where dead and wounded extremists are taken, said 10 militants were killed in the battle.
Five soldiers and four tribesmen fighting alongside the army also died, military and tribal sources said.
"The army is backing us with weapons," a tribal chief said. "We will fight al-Qaeda and will not let them into our city."
The barracks came under fire from the Islamist insurgents before daylight and soldiers retaliated, military sources said. Heavy fighting ensued as the soldiers were backed by tribesmen.
The attack came after air strikes killed 24 suspected al-Qaeda militants in their strongholds of southern and eastern Yemen at the weekend, according to the defence ministry and a tribal chief.
Loder is about 150km northeast of Zinjibar, capital of Abyan province, which the Partisans of Sharia (Islamic law) overran in May 2011.
A tribal source said the militants have been hiding in rugged mountainous regions east and north of Loder.
The Partisans of Sharia is linked to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, which the US considers the most active branch of the network.
It has exploited a decline in central government control that accompanied Arab Spring-inspired protests that eventually forced Yemen's veteran president Ali Abdullah Saleh to cede power in the face of a popular uprising.
Al-Qaeda briefly overran Loder in August 2010 before being driven out by the army, according to a military source.
He said the militants were deployed in numbers around the city and wanted to retake it for its strategic location between Shabwa, Bayda and Lahij provinces where AQAP is active.
"The tribes are fighting alongside the army and we will repel al-Qaeda. Their plans will fail so long as the local population stands by our side," the source said.
The source in Jaar said 12 militants were also killed late on Sunday in artillery shelling by the army on the outskirts of Zinjibar.
Dozens of fighters have poured in from the town of Azzan in Shabwa to back fighters in Zinjibar, he said. Among them were nationals from neighbouring Gulf states, mainly Saudi Arabia.
In the main southern city of Aden of Monday, a policeman died and another was wounded in an attack on their patrol, a police official told AFP.
A witness said the attack took place in Mansura, a residential district of Aden, where two suspected al-Qaeda bombers died on Friday as their payload exploded short of their intended target, intelligence offices.