Yemen military says al Qaeda attack on troops has left at least 38 dead

Yemeni army soldiers fire artillery at al Qaeda militants near the southern town of Loder, in Abiyan province, in this April 30, 2012 file photo. Getty

SANAA, Yemen A Yemeni military official says coordinated attacks by al Qaeda militants in a southern province have killed at least 38 soldiers and wounded dozens.

Maj. Raed Mohammed Nasser says the attacks took place at dawn Friday in Shabwa province. He says the militants, taking advantage of heavy fog, surprised the troops in barracks in bases in the Maysaa and Kamp areas.

Nasser says heavy clashes are still underway near a third military encampment, in the al-Ain area, where militants detonated a car bomb outside the barracks.

Nasser told The Associated Press that eight militants have also died in the fighting so far.

Yemeni authorities are leading a war against Al Qaeda's local branch, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which has begun referring to itself as Ansar al-Sharia. The group is considered by Washington to be one of the world's most dangerous terror groups.

The al Qaeda-linked militants took advantage of the political unrest following the 2011 uprising against former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, to reinforce their presence in the country's mostly lawless south and step up attacks against the Yemeni security forces.

On Thursday, CBS News senior correspondent John Miller reported that three men charged in New York's Eastern District court with being members of another al Qaeda-linked group in Somalia were arrested on their way to join AQAP in Yemen.

A new document obtained this week by CBS News says the three suspects had, "substantial knowledge regarding an al-Shabaab research and development department that was developing chemical weapons." Al-Shabab is the terror group based in Somalia, but the document raises the possibility that the men could have been trying to bring some level of chemical weapons knowledge to the Yemeni branch of al Qaeda.

AQAP has been behind a series of terror plots directed squarely at U.S. interests, including the Christmas 2010 attempted to blow up a plane arriving in Detroit, and a plan about a month earlier to put bombs hidden in printer parts on cargo planes flying into the U.S. and Europe.

The Yemen-based al Qaeda group has taken a battering in more recent years by U.S. drone strikes and ground offensives by Yemeni forces.

In July, AQAP acknowledged that a U.S. strike in the country months earlier had killed Saeed al-Shihri, the group's Saudi deputy leader who had previously spent six years in the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Still alive and on the loose, however, are AQAP's chief Nasir Wuhayshi and one of the terror network's most potent bomb-makers, Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri.

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