Yemeni militants say they release 27 soldiers
SANAA (Reuters) - A Yemeni Islamist group linked to al Qaeda said on Friday it had released 27 soldiers taken prisoner, after they vowed to quit the U.S.-backed government army.
Ansar al-Sharia (Partisans of Islamic law) said in a statement it had seized the soldiers last month in Abyan province in the south of the impoverished Arabian Peninsula state.
Yemeni troops continued bombing targets in the Shaqra and Arqoub regions of Abyan for a fifth day on Thursday, part of an army offensive against the militants. There was no news of casualties.
Yemen's government has been battling al Qaeda-linked groups which took over areas of south and central Yemen during an uprising last year against veteran ruler Ali Abdullah Saleh before he finally stepped down in February.
The army has regained control of some parts of Abyan, including parts of the provincial capital Zinjibar, and surrounds the town of Jaar, after militants overran them last year.
The regions are on Yemen's southern coast by the Arabian Sea, a key shipping route.
Last week a suicide bomber killed more than 90 soldiers in Sanaa in an attack claimed by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in revenge for the operations against them.
Washington sees AQAP as a threat to international security and has thrown its weight behind Yemen's new president Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi. It has been using pilotless planes known as drones to kill militants.
Conservative Muslims attacked a Chinese restaurant thought to offer alcoholic drinks in an affluent district of Sanaa after Friday prayers, smashing tables and chairs, a police source said.
It was the first such incident in the capital since Saleh left office in February.
The source said Islamists had protested outside the restaurant on Thursday, burning tyres, and a local mosque preacher called on worshippers on Friday to force it to close.
A witness said bearded Islamists had led a group who threw stones at the restaurant, closed because of the threats, before attacking it. No one was hurt.
(Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari; Writing by Andrew Hammond; Editing by Andrew Roche and Alessandra Rizzo)
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