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Last Updated: Wednesday, 25 June, 2003, 16:54 GMT 17:54 UK
'Militants killed' by Yemeni forces
Yemeni troops have launched an offensive against Islamic militants, killing at least 10 during an attack on their hideout, military sources said.

The militants, who were believed to be hiding the Hatat mountain in the south of the country, have been blamed by authorities for an attack on an army medical team that left seven people wounded in Abyan province on Saturday.

Troops used rockets and artillery fire against the militants during the operation on Wednesday, military sources told the Associated Press news agency.

Hundreds of troops backed by helicopters, tanks and heavy artillery are said to be involved in the operation, searching for at least 60 members of the Islamic Jihad group and the Islamic Army of Aden-Abyan.

The artillery assault reportedly follows a break down in talks to negotiate the militants' surrender.

One mediator is quoted as saying that the militants "refused to hand themselves over to the authorities, preferring to fight the government forces".

The operation is being led personally by the Yemeni Defence Minister, General Abdullah Ali Eleiwah, and is the latest offensive in a government crackdown on Islamic extremists.

Alleged al-Qaeda links

Militants kidnapped 16 Western tourists in 1998, four of whom were killed in a rescue attempt by soldiers.

Last month, suspected al-Qaeda member Abed Abdulrazzak Kamel was sentenced to death after he was convicted of killing three US Christian missionaries in the southern town of Jibla.

He told the court he had co-ordinated the attack with another suspected Islamic militant.

One crewman was killed when the French super tanker Limburg was attacked off the Yemeni coast last year, and 17 American soldiers died when the USS Cole was targeted in the port of Aden in October 2000.

Sympathisers of Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda terror network, which was blamed for the 11 September 2001 attacks in the United States, are also said to have based themselves in the Hatat mountain hideouts.

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