Gunfire erupts at Yemen hospital, clashes hit south

Gunfire erupts at Yemen hospital, clashes hit south

An al Qaeda suspect tried to shoot his way out of hospital in Yemen's capital where he was being treated under guard on Sunday, while security forces and separatists clashed in the south of the country, Reuters reported.

The suspected al Qaeda militant snatched a gun from one of two intelligence agents guarding his room and opened fire, a hospital administrator said. One of the agents was killed and the other wounded, a security official said.

More gunmen opened fire at the hospital entrance as the al Qaeda suspect tried to make his way downstairs, the administrator added. There was no word on civilian casualties.

"I saw smoke rising from the window of one storey of the hospital, and heard the screams of people who were inside," said a journalist who was at the hospital when the shooting broke out, asking not to be named.

He said the smoke was probably from smoke bombs fired by security forces after the shooting. Al Arabiya television had reported both guards in the room were killed.

Yemen became a major Western security concern after the Yemen-based regional arm of al Qaeda claimed responsibility for a failed attempt to bomb a U.S.-bound plane in December.

Hospital sources said the suspected al Qaeda militant was apprehended, but the gunmen who opened fire at the hospital entrance managed to flee.

A security official said the suspect, a non-Yemeni, had been among 11 al Qaeda suspects held this week in the capital Sanaa.

Western allies and neighbouring Saudi Arabia fear al Qaeda is exploiting instability in impoverished Yemen to recruit and train militants for attacks in the region and beyond.

As well as fighting al Qaeda, Yemen is trying to contain separatist tension in the south and end a northern Shi'ite insurgency. Last month, facing international pressure to focus on al Qaeda, Sanaa declared a truce in the northern conflict.

SOUTHERN CLASHES

In south Yemen on Sunday, security forces clashed with separatist gunmen who blocked an intercity road, and five people were wounded in the ensuing gunbattle near the city of Dalea that was the scene of clashes on Saturday.

And in the southern city of Zinjibar, a man was killed when an explosive device he was trying to set up at the local offices of the ruling party went off, a party official said.

Escalating violence between government troops and separatists in Yemen's southern provinces has left several dead on both sides in recent weeks, even as separate violence in Yemen's north has eased.

"The southern movement cut off a road linking Dalea to Sanaa and security forces clashed with them. The confrontation lasted half an hour," a government official said, adding the separatists used rocks to block a road between Dalea and Sanaa.

The official said the wounded included three security men and two separatists. Residents said all five wounded were security forces.

North and South Yemen formally united in 1990 but many in the south, where most of impoverished Yemen's oil facilities are located, complain northerners have used unification to seize resources and discriminate against them.

Analysts say the government is also using the battle against al Qaeda to turn on its other opponents in the country.

In Dalea, sporadic gunfire continued to punctuate what residents described as a shaky calm following unrest on Saturday when troops raided a number of houses, sparking clashes with armed groups. At least 15 people were wounded in the unrest.

A government official had said Saturday's violence broke out when soldiers tried to arrest suspects in the recent killing of a local intelligence official. Up to 50 people were arrested in Saturday's sweeps, bringing the number of people arrested in sweeps over the past month to well over 200.

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