ADEN, Yemen: Suspected Al-Qaeda jihadists have executed three Yemeni soldiers whom they captured in an ambush on an army convoy that was backing an offensive against extremist strongholds, a security official said Wednesday.
“Residents found the bodies of three soldiers, bearing marks of torture, near a road intersection in Ataq,” the official said, referring to the capital of Shabwa province in south Yemen.
Yemeni security forces Tuesday launched an offensive against militants in Shabwa and the neighboring Abyan province, with 36 people – 21 soldiers and 15 extremists – killed so far, according to an AFP tally compiled from several sources.
The executed men were among 15 soldiers captured by militants during Tuesday’s ambush near Al-Saeed, one of several towns targeted in the offensive by militia-backed Yemeni troops, the official said.
The militants were armed with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades when they seized a troop carrier with the soldiers inside and destroyed three other vehicles, army sources said.
The abductors released two soldiers hours later, after “severely beating” them, the security official said, adding that the fate of the other 10 troops remained unknown.
After the three bodies were discovered Wednesday, the army made a “tactical withdrawal” from Al-Saeed, the official said.
In Abyan province, meanwhile, three Al-Qaeda militants were killed and 10 wounded Wednesday when the army shelled the towns of Sannaj and Maajalah, an army officer said.
The launch of the ground offensive followed intense U.S. and Yemeni airstrikes on suspected Al-Qaeda targets last week that officials described as “unprecedented.”
The airstrikes killed 55 suspected militants in Abyan, three in Shabwa and 10 in Baida province, further north, where three civilians also died, according to officials.
Military commanders are seeking to expel the jihadists from a string of small towns and hill districts in Abyan and Shabwa, where they retained a presence after a 2012 offensive in which the army recaptured major towns.
A Friends of Yemen meeting in London heard a call by British Foreign Secretary William Hague for donors to back Yemen’s efforts to give Al-Qaeda “nowhere to hide.”
Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula – a union of the network’s Yemeni and Saudi branches – is regarded by Washington as the group’s most dangerous franchise and has been subjected to an intensifying drone war this year.
The jihadists took advantage of a 2011 uprising that forced president Ali Abdullah Saleh from power to seize large swathes of the south and east, from which the army has struggled to evict them, despite backing from militia recruited among the local tribes.