A senior al-Qaida leader in Yemen was killed in a family feud Thursday and an ensuing gunbattle between his followers and opponents left 16 other militants dead, a security official and tribal elders said.
Tariq al-Dahab was slain at his home in the southern village of al-Masameh by his half brother, Hizam, and other family members, according to the official and the elders.
Hizam and his supporters then fled the scene, taking refuge in another house. Al-Dahab's followers pursued them and a battle ensued, leaving 16 dead, including Hizam.
It was not immediately clear what had triggered the feud. During the past year of Yemen's turmoil, al-Qaida-linked militants have seized control of several cities and towns in the south, including large swaths of Abyan province, and the provincial capital of Zinjibar. Government operations have failed to oust them.
Al-Dahab became prominent in the Yemeni branch of al-Qaida after his sister married Anwar al-Awlaki, the U.S.-born radical militant cleric who was killed by a U.S. drone strike last fall.
Last month, he led the militants who stormed and occupied the town of Radda, 100 miles (160 kilometers) south of the capital Sanaa. The militants pulled out after authorities released 15 of al-Dahab's men from jail.
The tribal leaders said the al-Dahab family dispute was over inheritance after the death of a wealthy elder who was married to four wives and had at least 20 sons.
The tribal leaders and the Yemeni security official all spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing reprisals.
Meanwhile, an al-Qaida-linked fighter was killed in clashes Thursday with the army in Zinjibar that also left eight soldiers wounded, two of them critically, the security official said.
The clashes come less than a week before the Feb. 21 presidential elections, which are expected to approve a new national leader to replace President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Security has collapsed across Yemen during the year-old popular uprising seeking to push Saleh from power that was inspired by other Arab Spring revolts. Saleh is currently in the U.S. being treated for injuries sustained in a bomb blast last year. Under a U.S.-backed plan, his deputy, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, is to be rubber stamped as the country's new leader in elections on Feb. 21.
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