Militants emboldened by months of turmoil in Yemen launched a surprise dawn attack on Wednesday on a southern city, seizing entire neighbourhoods after gunfights with government forces, security officials said. One soldier was killed and three were wounded in the fighting.

The militants, believed to number between 150 and 200 and to include al-Qaeda members, were in control of several neighbourhoods in the southern part of Houta, the provincial capital of Lahj province, the officials said. Some of the militants also were deployed in farmlands just outside the city.

The attack came a day after a senior U.S. official said Washington was worried that the ongoing unrest in Yemen could fuel connections between al-Qaeda-linked militants in the Arab nation and al-Shabab insurgents in Somalia.

Daniel Benjamin, the State Department’s counter-terror coordinator, also said insurgents in Yemen were now operating more in the open and have been able to acquire and hold more territory.

The Yemeni security officials also said that bands of militants drove through some neighbourhoods in the southern port city of Aden early Wednesday, opening fire on security forces. They had no further details. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to talk to the media.

Keywords: Yemen uprising

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