SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Gunmen shot five officials dead in the middle of a southeastern Yemeni town Wednesday, while one soldier was killed in a car bomb attack on a military checkpoint, security officials said.
The officials could not identify the attackers in either incident, but multiple militant groups including Islamist radicals and regional separatists are active where they occurred. The attacks highlight the lawlessness in Yemen less than one week before a national election to approve a new national leader to replace longtime autocratic President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Security has collapsed across Yemen during the year-old popular uprising seeking to push Saleh from power. Saleh is currently in the U.S. being treated for injuries sustained in a bomb blast last year. Under a U.S.-backed plan, his deputy, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, is to be rubber stamped as the country's new leader in elections on Feb. 21.
The U.S. and Saudi Arabia have pinned their hopes on Hadi, considering him the best person to end Yemen's unrest and lead the fight against the country's active al-Qaida branch, which has directly targeted the U.S.
Many worry, however, that Saleh will remain the country's most powerful figure due to his many relatives and tribesmen in the impoverished country's security forces.
In a sign that Saleh is beginning to hand over authority — officially at least — Saleh ordered on Wednesday that pictures of him hung around the country be replaced with those of Hadi, the state news agency Saba reported.
Many groups in Yemen — including al-Qaida, a movement calling for independence of Yemen's south, and insurgent groups in the country's north — oppose the elections. Wednesday's attacks appeared to be efforts to make the vote fail.
A local election official, an army chief and three others were killed when armed men opened fire on them in the middle of the town of Bayda, southeast of the capital Sanaa, security officials said.
In the province of Marib east of the capital, one soldier was killed and five others wounded by the explosion of a booby-trapped car near a military checkpoint, another official said. The official said the attack appeared to have been carried out by al-Qaida.
On Tuesday, one man was killed when an explosive he attempted to throw at a polling station in the southern port city of Aden exploded prematurely.
All officials spoke on condition of anonymity due to regulations.