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Suspected al Qaeda militants killed in Yemen clashes, officials say

From Hakim Almasmari, For CNN
updated 5:22 AM EST, Thu December 1, 2011
Dissident Yemeni protesters shout slogans as a protestor waves a Yemeni flag in Sanaa on Saturday.
Dissident Yemeni protesters shout slogans as a protestor waves a Yemeni flag in Sanaa on Saturday.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Clashes began Tuesday night and continued for 14 hours
  • Eyewitnesses confirmed that at least four of the dead were foreign fighters
  • Security officials say at least 65 foreign fighters have been killed in Abyan since May

(CNN) -- At least 11 suspected al Qaeda militants were killed in Yemen's southern province of Abyan in clashes that erupted Tuesday night and continued for at least 14 hours, according to officials and local residents.

A senior security official in Abyan said that government troops shelled militants' hideouts to force them out of Abyan.

"The province turned into a gathering point for terror militants over the last five months. Fighters continue to arrive to Abyan from everywhere," said the security official, who is not authorized to talk to media.

He added, "Clashes with the militants were strong over the last four days -- and troops will not step down until the entire province is back in the hands of the government."

Eyewitnesses in the area confirmed that at least four of the killed were foreign fighters, one of them from Saudi Arabia.

"Because clashes were in the middle of the town, the bodies of foreigners laid on the roads for hours," said Abdullah Abu Kareem, a local in Zinjibar.

Security officials in Abyan told CNN that at least 65 foreign fighters were killed in Abyan since May.

"They started entering the province in large numbers two months ago. Before that, nearly all of the al Qaeda fighters here were Yemeni," added Abu Kareem.

A senior defense ministry official confirmed that foreigners were among the killed over the last week but said the they are in small numbers compared to the Yemeni fighters.

Eyewitnesses told CNN that clashes took place on main roads and destroyed property.

Yemen's security has been a worry for the international community for years, and has increased even more after the political stalemate in the country eased communication between terror networks in Yemen.

"Al Qaeda can still be dealt with in Yemen. It is not a great danger yet. However, if this file is not resolved soon, then al Qaeda could be a threat to not only Yemen but the entire region," said Mohammed Abulahoum, the president of the opposition Justice and Building party.

Ansaar Sharia, an extremist militant group with links to al Qaeda, took over large areas in Abyan province last May after government forces evacuated hundreds of troops from their original posts.

More than 100,000 residents left the province months ago and are living in shelters in neighboring Aden and Lahj provinces.

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