SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Navy ships shelled suspected al-Qaida positions in the southern province of Abyan, killing 29 militants, military and security officials said Thursday.
They said the rocket and artillery barrage, spread out over a 24-hour period that ended early Thursday, struck alleged al-Qaida targets around the city of Zinjibar, Abyan's provincial capital.
Zinjibar is one of several southern towns captured last year by al-Qaida militants who are taking advantage of the country's political turmoil to seize territory.
The officials also said the militants have killed execution-style a senior security officer who was kidnapped on Wednesday in the town of Mukkala in the southeast Hadramout province. The body of the officer, Lt. Col. Farag Said Ben Qahtan, was found in farmlands following a gunbattle between the kidnappers and security forces trying to rescue him.
Qahtan's body was decapitated, the officials said. They had no word on the motive behind the kidnapping.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to reporters.
The yearlong uprising forced longtime ruler Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down, after he agreed to a U.S. backed power-transfer deal. The deal gave him immunity from prosecution in return for relinquishing power. His General People's Congress party and several opposition groups are equal partners in the present government
However, since the election of new Yemeni president Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, Saleh's presence in the country has been a source of contention. Officials say Saleh interferes through Cabinet members from his party.
Saleh denounced the government as "incompetent." The new prime minister, Salem Mohammed Bassindwa, responded that the government is doing a better job than Saleh's.
Saleh's backdoor maneuvers, including meetings with military and security officials, prompted the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa to issue a statement signed by "The Witnesses of the GCC Agreement."
The statement "noted with concern the recent deterioration in political cooperation in Yemen," and said this could endanger the second stage of the deal — national reconciliation among Yemen's rival groups.
"It is not acceptable for any party to interfere in the implementation of the GCC agreement. We call on all parties to calm the rhetoric in the media," the statement said, calling for convening of a national dialogue with all parties taking part.