ADEN (Reuters) - A suicide bomber failed on Saturday in an assassination attempt on a former Islamist in Yemen who helped drive al Qaeda militants out of a southern region this year, a security source and resident said.
Abdul-Latif al-Sayed had just got into a parked car with three others after dining in a restaurant in the southern port city of Aden when the bomber struck, the security source said. The bomber died in the explosion and the four victims were in hospital with serious injuries.
"The car was parked when the bomber threw himself at it, he was wearing an explosive belt," said witness Mohammed Saleh, who works in a shop nearby.
Sayed headed a "popular committee" in the town of Jaar which helped the army drive out al Qaeda militants who had taken control during turmoil last year when the government of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh faced a popular uprising. Saleh was eventually forced from office in February.
A former fighter with al Qaeda, Sayed began working with Yemen's security forces three years ago. Saturday's bombing was the fifth attempt on his life. An attack targeting Sayed in August killed 45 people.
Militants have been ousted from Jaar and other towns in Abyan province, but have staged a series of assassination attempts on government officials and suicide attacks in recent months.
Restoring stability to Yemen has become an international priority due to fears that al Qaeda and other Islamist militants could become entrenched in a country which neighbors oil producer Saudi Arabia and lies on major shipping lanes.
New president Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi has been under Western pressure to continue security cooperation with Washington, allowing controversial U.S. drone strikes against suspected militants, despite some civilian casualties.
In north Yemen, the death toll in clashes between Shi'ite and Sunni Islamists rose to four, after a conservative Salafi preacher died on Friday in fighting with followers of the Zaydi Shi'ite group known as the Houthis, a security source said.
The Houthis have tried to assert their strength in recent weeks in Sanaa where they have many followers.
Houthis and Sunni Islamists are among the groups vying for influence in post-Saleh Yemen. The United States accuses Iran of backing the Houthis.
(Reporting by Dhuyazan Mukhashaf; Writing by Andrew Hammond; Editing by Pravin Char)