Islamic State Killed 10 Yemeni Troops in a Former al-Qaeda Stronghold

The attack took place in the city of Mukalla, which al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula had occupied until its fighters withdrew and Yemeni troops occupied the town last month.
May 12, 2016, 3:05pm
Two Yemeni women pass a wall full of graffiti in support of peace in the war-affected country, at a wall along a street in Sana'a, Yemen, 30 April 2016. (Yahya Arhab/EPA)

Islamic State in Yemen said it carried out a suicide bombing that killed ten soldiers in the provincial capital Mukalla on Thursday, hours before the prime minister was due to visit the city, which until two weeks ago was a militant stronghold.

Prime Minister Ahmed Obeid bin Daghr is on his first visit to Mukalla, a port city on the Arabian Sea, since it was recaptured by government soldiers in April after a year-long occupation by al-Qaeda. He is in the town on a one-day visit, along with several ministers, aimed at reviving government institutions in the city.

Islamic State said in an online statement that one of its members had blown himself up in a car near government troops.

"A knight of the knights of martyrdom, brother Hamza al-Muhajir… was able to detonate his explosives-laden car at a post of the apostates of the militia of (President Abedrabbo Masour) Hadi," the IS statement said, according to AFP.

Medical sources said ten soldiers had been killed at a naval camp near the port of Khalaf in Mukalla when a car exploded. About 15 soldiers were wounded, they said.

"The explosion is not going to affect the visit or its aims," a government source told Reuters.

A suicide bombing also targeted the convoy of General Abdulrahman al-Haleeli, commander of the province's first military region, which killed his guards. Haleeli survived.

Related: Al-Qaeda Fighters Fled Two Towns in Yemen — And Took a Bunch of Weapons With Them

Mukalla, the capital of the vast eastern province of Hadramout and important shipping hub, had been the center of a rich mini-state that al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) built up over the past year as it took control of an almost 600-km (370-mile) band of Arabian Sea coastline.

In late April, Yemeni and Emirati soldiers seized Mukalla AQAP, which withdrew its men with little resistance.

Islamic State in Yemen has criticized AQAP for losing Mukalla to the Gulf-backed Yemeni forces, and said the long-established group had suffered its territorial losses because it had chosen to be populist rather than following the commands of God.

The Gulf-backed offensive against al-Qaeda come as a truce and peace talks continue between Houthi rebels and the government.

Al-Qaeda and IS have both expanded their presence in the country's south, including the port city of Aden, where the government is located.

The US has long considered AQAP one of the most dangerous branches of al-Qaeda, and has used drones to target suspected militants.

But AQAP remains strong in the country's southeast, controlling several towns in the area known as Wadi Hadramawt.

Reuters Contributed to this report