'222 dead' in Qaeda battle for Yemen's Loder

At least 222 people, including 183 militants, have been killed in five days of clashes around the strategic southern town of Loder that Al-Qaeda is trying to seize, Yemeni security sources said on Saturday.

In the southern port city of Aden, also southern Yemen, an attack on a checkpoint by Al-Qaeda-linked fighters and a subsequent gunbattle left eight of the assailants and four policemen killed, police said.

Thirty-seven people were killed in Loder on Friday, the sources told AFP, among them a child of 12 killed by a shell burst inside the town. The rest were five tribal auxiliaries and 31 militants.

Loder was quiet on Saturday "after the Al-Qaeda fighters withdrew to positions they occupied before the fighting began, leaving behind several snipers," another military source said of the clashes that erupted on Monday.

The militants pulled back to Um Sorra, five kilometres (three miles) southwest of Loder, and towards Wadhia and Arqub, 10 and 15 kilometres away, respectively.

Loder lies some 150 kilometres northeast of Zinjibar, the Abyan provincial capital that militants of the Al-Qaeda-linked Partisans of Sharia (Islamic law) overran last May.

The authorities announced on Friday they had deployed around 200 anti-terrorist forces to Loder to counter the mounting Al-Qaeda threat.

Firefights erupted on Monday between the army backed by tribal levies and the militants. Since then the extremists have lost 183 men, and the army said it has suffered 14 dead.

Another 24 members of the so-called popular resistance committees, made up of armed local residents, were also killed, in addition to the child killed by shell fire.

Al-Qaeda briefly seized Loder in August 2010 before being driven out by the army.

A tribal source said the militants wanted to recapture it because of its strategic location between Shabwa, Bayda and Lahij provinces where Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, is also active.

In a potential blow, local Al-Qaeda chief Abdel Rauf Nassib was captured on Friday by army auxiliaries, who turned him over to the army, military and tribal sources said.

Nassib has been wanted for several years on charges of forming an armed band. In 2006, he was acquitted of involvement in the bombing of the USS Cole in Aden that killed 17 sailors.

Abyan province has fallen completely under AQAP control except for Loder and Mudia.

The United States considers the Yemen-based AQAP to be the most deadly and active branch of the global terror network.

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