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Top Yemen commander killed; al Qaeda claims responsibility

By Hakim Almasmari, for CNN
June 19, 2012 -- Updated 1050 GMT (1850 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The commander of Yemen's southern regions is killed in a suicide attack
  • Al Qaeda claims responsibility
  • President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi vows to continue to battle al Qaeda

Sanaa, Yemen (CNN) -- One of Yemen's top military leaders died Monday in the southern port city of Aden in a suicide attack for which al Qaeda claimed responsibility.

The Defense Ministry said Salem Qatan, commander of the Southern Regions, was leaving his home on his way to work when a Somali national ran at his vehicle and detonated himself. Qatan died immediately, along with two of his guards.

Witnesses told CNN that he was well-guarded at the time of the attack.

As top commander in southern Yemen, Qatan is the highest-ranking military commander killed by al Qaeda since Yemen joined the war on terror.

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He arrived in Aden from Abyan province last week after leading military operations against al Qaeda in the towns in Jaar, Zinjibar, and Shuqra.

Al Qaeda has announced it would be shifting the war toward major Yemeni cities.

Qatan was appointed days after President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi took power in late February through a peaceful transfer deal that led to Yemen's longtime president leaving office.

Last month, a suicide bomber killed more than a hundred troops in the capital, Sanaa. Al Qaeda claimed responsibility for the attack.

Hadi praised Qatan and renewed his vow to fight the militant group on Monday, saying the attack will not weaken the government's resolve to fight terror.

"Qatan led wars against terrorists and supporters of evil," he said.

Hadi added that unemployment and poverty are tools the terror network uses to recruit youngsters.

Meanwhile, in the southern Shabwa province, troops on their way to the militant stronghold of Azzan clashed with dozens of al Qaeda fighters.

Two security officials told CNN that three militants and one soldier were killed in the fighting.

Government troops are still trying to retake the town of Azzan, al Qaeda's last stronghold in Yemen.

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