SANA, Yemen -- At least 29 government soldiers were killed on Friday in what appeared to be a coordinated attack by people suspected of being Qaeda militants on two military targets in the south of Yemen, security and government officials said.
In an official statement, the government said 21 soldiers were killed and 15 injured when two car bombs exploded at a military camp in Al Nashama, and at least eight soldiers were killed by gunmen at security headquarters in the town of Mayfaa. All of those killed had been assigned to guard the oil and gas fields in southern Shabwa Province, a volatile area and stronghold of Al Qaeda where there have been frequent skirmishes between security forces and Islamist militants.
The officials said they believed that members of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a Qaeda affiliate active in Yemen, were responsible for the attacks. The group is viewed by the United States and other Western countries as one of the most dangerous affiliates of the global terror network. In recent years, the group has tried to carry out several high-profile attacks, some meant to blow up international airliners, and its militants have assassinated dozens of Yemeni security and military officers.
The Associated Press, quoting Maj. Raed Mohammed Nasser, said eight militants had died.
Residents who said they witnessed the attack in Mayfaa reported that the militants surprised the troops in their barracks at dawn in dense fog.
Witnesses in the area near Al Nashama, which is about 40 miles from Mayfaa, said that after the bombs were detonated, a drone targeted the two Qaeda cars, hitting one and missing the other. They said no bodies had been discovered in the cars. Before the attack, the witnesses said, Qaeda militants were seen driving through the surrounding area, armed with machine guns.
A campaign of American drone strikes and a Yemeni Army offensive have intensified pressure against the Al Qaeda affiliate over the past 18 months, as militants have been pushed out of territory that had been under their control and back into hiding. But despite that pressure, the group has been at the center of a recent intensification in threat levels.
Last month, the Obama administration closed nearly two dozen diplomatic missions and issued a worldwide travel alert after the United States intercepted electronic communications in which the head of Al Qaeda ordered the leader of the Yemen affiliate to carry out an attack, American officials have said.
Nasser Arrabyee reported from Sana, and Dan Bilefsky from Paris.world
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.