SANAA, Yemen — A suicide bomber blew up his vehicle outside an army barracks in southern Yemen on Monday, killing four tribal militiamen allied to the military in an attack aimed at stopping an army advance toward a town held by al-Qaida militants.
Government troops are making their way toward the coastal town of Shaqra, one of a string of areas in southern Yemen where al-Qaida militants took control over the past year. In recent week, the government has launched an intensified offensive by troops and allied tribal fighters trying to retake the region.
On Monday, a suicide bomber in a vehicle drove toward an army barracks in the town of Umsurra, about 50 kilometers (30 miles) northeast of Shaqra. Troops opened fire on the vehicle, and the driver detonated his explosives, killing himself and four tribal fighters, the Defense Ministry said.
Another suicide bomber blew himself up near an army checkpoint in the same town, killing only himself, the military said in a statement. It also said that four suspected al-Qaida fighters were arrested in the same area, one of them suspected of being linked to the first suicide attack, the ministry said.
Al-Qaida has increasingly used suicide bombers and car bombs to try to stop the military offensive in the south, which escalated started May 12.
Military officials said that if the military regained control over Shaqra, it will be able to cut supplies to militants in Zinjibar, the capital of Abyan province, from al-Qaida strongholds further east.
Zinjibar and the neaby town of Jaar have been held for over a year by militants who took advantage of Yemen's political turmoil to seize broad swaths of the south. But Yemen's army claims it has retaken most of Zinjibar in the recent fighting.
Troops continued a slow advance on Jaar, backed by heavy airstrikes and artillery shelling. They say militants are entrenched in the town after most of the civilian population fled.
Clashes on Monday between the military and al-Qaida raged for about 45 minutes left six militants and one soldier dead, military officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.
Earlier this week, Yemeni warplanes attacked a militant communications station near Shaqra which was used by al-Qaida to direct operations using the Internet, wireless communications and a satellite telephone. The raid killed three militants and wounded seven.
Al-Qaida's branch in Yemen, known as al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, was behind the failed Christmas 2009 attempt to bomb an American airliner as well as a foiled attempt the following year to mail package bombs to the United States.