Yemeni security officials say at least 25 soldiers were killed late Saturday in an apparent “friendly fire” incident and battle with militants in southern Abyan province, but government and military sources deny the reports.
Local officials Sunday said a Yemeni air force plane mistakenly bombed an abandoned school where the soldiers were sheltering near the city of Zinjibar. They said militants later attacked the school, killing more soldiers.
However, Yemen’s defense ministry called the reports “false.” And the apparent friendly fire incident could not be independently confirmed.
A military source said there is confusion about what happened in several areas of recent fighting in Abyan. He said the soldiers’ deaths were not caused by a botched airstrike but an Islamist militant ambush on an army site.
About 25 militants and 20 soldiers have been killed in the last two days in Ayban’s provincial capital, Zinjibar. The city was captured last May by al-Qaida-linked fighters, and Yemeni security forces have been battling to regain control of the area.
Also Sunday, the Yemeni government said Ibrahim al-Asiri, a Saudi bomb maker reported killed in last week’s U.S. airstrike against American-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, was not among the dead.
Al-Asiri is linked to the bomb hidden in the underwear of the Nigerian man accused of attempting to blow up a U.S. plane over Detroit on Christmas Day 2009.
On Friday, a drone strike in Yemen killed al-Awlaki, a key al-Qaida figure, and Samir Khan, a Pakistani-American who produced the terror group’s English-language Web magazine, Inspire.