Story highlights

Ansaar al-Sharia, Islamic militants tied to al-Qaeda, attacks a Yemen checkpoint, officials say

At least 23 Yemen troops and nine militants are killed, plus injuries to both sides

Militants seize the checkpoint in the southern province of Lahj

Militants are holding troops who surrendered, officials say

Sanaa, Yemen CNN —  

At least 23 troops were killed and eleven others wounded when Islamic militants raided and seized a strategic checkpoint in Yemen’s southern province of Lahj on Saturday, three security officials told CNN.

At least nine militants were killed and two others injured in the attacks, two of the officials said.

The three officials said militants belonging to Ansaar al-Sharia, an Islamic militant network with close links to al-Qaeda, were behind the attack. In a text message sent to media outlets believed to be from Ansaar al-Sharia, the group claimed responsibility for the raid and said it comes in retaliation to government attacks against residents in the area.

Clashes were fiercest on the al-Haroor area, the main crossroad linking the town of Malah, Lahj, to Jaar, Abyan, which is a militant stronghold, two officials said. Dozens of militants suddenly raided the governmental post in al-Haroor, two officials confirmed.

Eyewitnesses in the area told CNN that militants seized two trucks of heavy artillery and three tanks during the clashes. Artillery seized by militants were then taken to neighboring Jaar.

According to a senior security official in the province, more than a dozen troops surrendered after clashes continued for more than three hours.

Ansaar al-Sharia, the militant group, told the soldiers to surrender, and in exchange, they would not be harmed as the group took over the caches of weapons and seized the checkpoint, according to two officials.

The troops are still being held and remain unharmed, according to two officials.

The air force arrived late in an effort to reinforce and aide troops, one official told CNN. “We have not been successful when it comes to timing and supporting our troops in the battlefield. At times, the militants have found ways in being one step ahead of us in Abyan and Lahj,” the official said, on condition of anonymity.

The militant group took control of Abyan province early last year and has attempted to infiltrate into neighboring Lahj and Aden provinces to create their crescent-shaped Islamic emirate.

More than 100 troops were killed by militants during the first week of March in Abyan.