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Why Yemen could become Al Qaeda haven

Four clashes in the past eight days underscore the state's vulnerability. Southern secessionists and northern rebels have weakened the central government.

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Yemen's vulnerability as a potential militant haven has been underscored by four attacks on security forces in eight days, as the country battles a Shiite rebellion in the north and a secessionist movement in the south.

On Friday, Yemeni troops retaliated against suspected Al Qaeda militants after their truck was ambushed en route to the northeastern city of Maarib, reported Agence France-Presse. A tribal source told the news agency that antiterror troops attacked the militants' hideout, killing a wanted Al Qaeda leader, A'ed Saleh al-Shabwani.

Last week, clashes turned deadly at two opposition gatherings in south Yemen and Shiite rebels ambushed soldiers in north Yemen, killing three, according to Reuters.

The conflict in the north drew international attention last month, when the central government blamed the Shiite rebels – known as Houthis – for the June 12 kidnapping of nine foreigners, including two German women and a South Korean woman who turned up dead two days later.

Houthi leadership strenuously denied involvement, and the group has no history of killing foreign nationals.

Tensions in the wake of the murders could lead to a fresh round of fighting in the conflict – an ongoing battle in the northern Saada governate between the government and Houthi rebels that has claimed hundreds of lives and displaced more than 100,000.

"One week ago, the authorities sent soldiers to Saada and attacked the governorate's citizens," said a senior Houthi rebel in a phone interview shortly after the kidnappings. "There were clashes between the Houthis and soldiers in the region."

An intensifying of the Saada conflict – one of numerous problems plaguing Yemen's fragile unity – could severely undermine the country, one of the poorest in the Arab world, says Joost R. Hiltermann of the International Crisis Group (ICG).

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