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Yemeni militants hit back, leaving more than 20 dead

Two deadly attacks this weekend signal the ongoing ability of Al Qaeda-linked militants to hit the government even after being dislodged from their strongholds earlier this year.

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Army soldiers keep watch from atop an armored personnel carrier patrolling a road, where Eid al-Fitr prayers were held, in Sanaa, August 19.

Khaled Abdullah/Reuters

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Two deadly attacks rocked Yemen’s restive south within 24 hours Saturday and Sunday, demonstrating the resilience of local militants and the continued challenges facing the Yemeni government as it aims to restore stability to this conflict-wracked nation. 

At least 20 people were killed in Saturday’s attack on the Intelligence Headquarters of the southern port of Aden, as masked fighters suspected to be affiliated with Al Qaeda opened fire on soldiers guarding the compound while accomplices detonated a car bomb nearby. A suicide attack on Sunday in the neighboring province of Abyan killed a local commander of an anti-Al Qaeda militia.

Al Qaeda-linked militants took large swathes of territory in Abyan last year as the government’s grasp on the country weakened during an Arab Spring-inspired uprising against former president Ali Abdullah Saleh. The militants, fighting under the banner of Ansar al-Shariah, managed to maintain their hold on much of the province for more than a year, before they were finally pushed out following a US-backed offensive by Yemeni forces and allied tribal fighters this June.

But while Ansar al-Shariah has abandoned control of towns held since last spring, there was little sign that they had given up the fight. The bulk of the fighters, military officials acknowledged, were able to flee to hideouts elsewhere – or, in some other cases, reintegrate into normal society.

As militants have continued to launch attacks targeting government forces and their allies in Abyan itself – earlier this month, an attack on a funeral left more than 50 dead – they’ve also taken the fight to major cities as well. A series of bold attacks and assassination attempts have rocked Aden and the capital, Sanaa, killing scores of soldiers and a number of senior military officials, including Gen. Salem Qattan, commander of Yemen’s Southern Military District and a key leader in the battle in Abyan.

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