JUNE 19 2010 16:05h

10 security men killed in south Yemen attack

Yemeni soldiers who were demobilised after a ceasefire with northern Shiite rebels in February, block a road as they demonstrate in the Radfan district of Lahj province, south of Sanaa, on June 15, 2010 demanding better treatment by the authorities.

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Thirteen people including 10 members of the security forces were killed on Saturday and a number of suspected Al-Qaeda prisoners were freed in an attack on a Yemeni intelligence headquarters in the southern port city of Aden, medics said.

A building housing the intelligence services in the Al-Tawahi district near the port came under fire at 0440 GMT, from a group of men armed with rocket-propelled grenades, grenades and machine guns, local officials told AFP.

An unknown number of prisoners suspected of being members of Al-Qaeda were also set free, the officials said on condition of anonymity, adding that the attack may have been the work of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

Witnesses also said the assailants "were seen leaving the building in a bus, taking people who had been detained there with them," in what appeared to be a coordinated and well-planned operation.

There were no casualties among the attackers, the witnesses said.

Medics reported that three of the dead were women cleaners and "the remaining dead were members of the intelligence" services. At least 12 other people were wounded in the attack, they said.

Yemen, the ancestral homeland of Osama bin Laden, has witnessed numerous attacks claimed by Al-Qaeda on foreign missions, tourist sites and oil installations.

In October 2000, militants in an explosive-packed high-speed boat blew a hole in the side of American warship the USS Cole in Aden, killing 17 sailors.

Two years later, the French-registered 500,000-tonne supertanker Limburg was damaged by another bomb-laden boat in an attack also attributed to Al-Qaeda, in the southeast port of Ash-Shir, east of Aden.

Sanaa has intensified operations against the local Al-Qaeda franchise in the wake of the attempted December 24 bombing of a US airliner by a Nigerian believed to have been trained and supplied by AQAP.

The group has suffered setbacks amid US pressure on the government to crack down. But its presence threatens to turn Yemen into a base for training and plotting attacks, a senior US counter-terrorism official said in September.

Just this week, AQAP urged Yemen's eastern tribes to rise against the government and threatened retaliation for alleged air strikes in the area, the US monitoring group SITE said on Friday.

"Allah willing, we will light up the ground with fire under the tyrants of infidelity in the regime of (Yemeni President) Ali (Abdullah) Saleh and his helpers, the agents of America," SITE quoted the group as saying.

In late May, provincial official Jaber Ali al-Shabwani and four of his bodyguards were killed in an air strike in Marib province that reportedly targeted a wanted Al-Qaeda suspect.

A local official said Shabwani had been negotiating for a week for the man's surrender and had gone for talks to the farm that was hit in the air strike.