SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Sneaking across the desert behind army lines, al-Qaida militants launched a surprise attack against military bases in south Yemen, killing 107 soldiers and capturing heavy weapons they later used to kill more troops, officials said on Monday.
The military officials said at least 32 of the militants were killed in Sunday's fighting in Abyan province and scores were wounded from both sides. Medical officials in the area confirmed the death toll figures. They said the poor services in local hospitals accounted for the death of many soldiers who suffered serious wounds but could have survived had they been given better medical care.
The high death toll among the troops is believed to be the highest on record in battles fought by the army against al-Qaida militants, who have been emboldened by the political turmoil roiling the impoverished Arab nation for more than a year.
The militants' attack appeared to be al-Qaida's response to a pledge by Yemen's newly inaugurated President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi to fight the Yemeni branch of the terror network.
The military officials said the militants' surprise attack outside Abyan's provincial capital Zinjibar also led to the capture of 55 soldiers. The captives were paraded on the streets of Jaar, a nearby town that, like Zinjibar, has been under al-Qaida's control for about a year.
The officials spoke on Monday on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to reporters.