ADEN — Yemeni air force jets hit an Al-Qaeda stronghold town in the south of the country on Monday, killing seven civilians when they mistakenly struck a mosque, a local official said.
“The Yemeni air force accidentally shelled a mosque in Jaar, killing seven people and wounding five others,” the official told AFP, on condition of anonymity.
“The air force hit the Grand Mosque in Jaar whereas the target was a small mosque held by suspected Al-Qaeda militants,” situated on the edge of the town, said the official.
A medical official in Al-Razi hospital in Jaar confirmed the toll and witnesses said that another raid targeted the hospital, wounding two more people.
Later on Monday, the army targeted the hospital again, killing two Al-Qaeda suspects and wounding another two, the head of Jaar’s local administration Naser al-Mansari told AFP.
The shells hit the hospital’s entrance and its northern wing where the power generator is located, witnesses said.
A doctor from Al-Razi hospital contacted by AFP said: “The medical staff fled from the hospital after the first strike. We don’t know what happened now.”
Air strikes also targeted the town’s court and a police station while Al-Faruq school was completely destroyed, witnesses said.
Local official Mohsen Salem Saeed said the death toll had risen and confirmed the hospital bombing adding that the air force attacked Mount Jaar, where the armed extremists have taken refuge.
“The raids were randomly launched, leaving casualties among civilians and Al-Qaeda militants alike. It is a humanitarian catastrophe,” he said.
Jaar, home to around 30,000 people, lies 12 kilometres (seven miles) north of Abyan province’s capital Zinjibar, most of which was seized in May by Partisans of Sharia (Islamic Law), an organisation linked to the Al-Qaeda network.
In another Abyan town, Loder, tribesmen arrested a suicide bomber on Monday as he was planning to blow himself up in a local market, a tribal source said.
The bomber, who was wearing an explosive belt, admitted that he was planning to attack the market in Loder, said the source, adding that the man was linked to Al-Qaeda.
The tribesmen took him to an army camp where the explosives were neutralised, when he alleged that two other bombers were still at large in the town centre, according to the same source.
The town centre was evacuated and armed tribesmen deployed to hunt down the two other suspected bombers, witnesses said.
On Thursday, a bomb-laden car was found and neutralised in the Loder market, tribal sources had said.
Tribesmen said in July that they had cleared the town of Loder of Al-Qaeda members, as south Yemen tribes turned against the militants.
A suicide car bomber killed three Yemeni soldiers in an attack on an army post at the gates of the southern city of Aden on Saturday, a military official told AFP.
Seven soldiers were also wounded in the attack, the official and a medical source said.
The lawless southern and eastern provinces of Yemen have provided safe havens for Al-Qaeda militants to regroup, especially over the past seven months of mass protests across the country against President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
He has been recovering in Saudi Arabia for more than two months from bomb blast wounds.
The international community has expressed fears that the power vacuum in the impoverished country could play into the hands of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the local branch of the network.
AQAP was behind several attacks, including the failed Christmas Day attempt to blow up a US airliner over Detroit in 2009.
Yemen has been gripped by political turmoil since the uprising against Saleh’s 33-year-old rule. Hundreds have died in battles between security forces and protesters, and between security forces and Al-Qaeda fighters.