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SANAA (Reuters) - Masked gunmen shot dead a senior intelligence official in Sanaa on Monday, a security source said, the latest in a series of assassinations in Yemen as the U.S.-allied government battles al Qaeda militants.

Abdulilah Al-Ashwal, a colonel in the Political Security Office, the domestic intelligence service, was leaving a mosque in the Safiya district of Sanaa when gunmen on motorcycles opened fire on him, the source said.

There have been a number of assassinations and assassination attempts on security officials and politicians following the ejection of Islamist militants from towns in Abyan province in south Yemen after they took control during the turmoil of the uprising that forced former president Ali Abdullah Saleh from office in February.

Saleh's successor Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi has cooperated with Washington in an effort to crush the militants, including stepped up air strikes using U.S. unmanned planes or drones.

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.

The attack comes on the eve of 50th anniversary celebrations of the Yemeni republic, set up in 1962. A suicide bomber killed 100 people at a military parade during celebrations of the 1990 unification of the former North and South Yemen states.

Hadi left this week on a 10-day trip to attend a U.N. General Assembly session in New York.

Security has continued to suffer from a power struggle in security and military units, as Hadi tries to remove figures close to Saleh who still head many bodies.

Domestic intelligence chief Ghaleb al-Qamish is viewed as having remained neutral during the protests against Saleh but his agency has played a major role in the fight against al Qaeda. Suspected militant detainees are held in its prisons.

Last week the government began procedures to try 41 men who were seized in the fight to oust militants from Abyan this year.

(Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari; Writing by Andrew Hammond; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

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