SANAA, Yemen (AP) -- Yemen's military said Saturday it has regained control of an al-Qaida stronghold in the country's south as part of an ongoing offensive, an attack that killed seven militants and two soldiers.
In a statement, the military said its soldiers regained control of the town of Azzan in Shabwa province. Families earlier fled the town due to fighting. The statement said two militants were from Saudi Arabia.
Elsewhere in the province, a military official said soldiers opened fire on militants as they tried to ambush a military patrol in Qarn al-Sawda, an attack that killed five militants and two soldiers. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief reporters.
The fighting comes amid a new offensive to root out Yemen's local al-Qaida branch, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.
The U.S. considers al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula as the world's most dangerous offshoot of the terror group. It is blamed for a number of unsuccessful bomb plots aimed at Americans, including an attempt to bring down a U.S.-bound airliner with explosives hidden in the bomber's underwear and a second plot to send mail bombs hidden in the toner cartridges on planes headed to the U.S.
The U.S. Embassy in Sanaa recently shut down its premises as a precaution against possible retaliatory attacks by militants. On April 24, two officers at the U.S. Embassy getting haircuts at a Sanaa barbershop killed two suspected al-Qaida gunmen. The New York Times has reported that the Americans were a CIA officer and a lieutenant colonel with the elite Joint Special Operations Command.
During Yemen's 2011 uprising against longtime President Ali Abdullah Saleh, al-Qaida exploited the security vacuum in the south and took over large areas. In 2012, the military carried an offensive pushing militants out from some of these areas. The U.S. is backing the Yemen offensive with drone strikes, which have angered locals over civilian casualties.