An attack by suspected al-Qaida militants early Thursday killed a security chief of a southern Yemeni town and triggered a series of clashes between soldiers and militants that killed eight people, mostly government troops, security officials said.
The violence comes as Yemeni officials reported an increase in al-Qaida attempts to assassinate security officials.
Yemen's weak central government is struggling to contain al-Qaida militants who expanded operations in this largely lawless country after their Yemeni and Saudi branched merged a year and a half ago to form al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.
Washington is deeply concerned about the group, which claimed responsibility for the failed attempt to down a Detroit-bound jetliner with a suicide bomber in December. The U.S. is funding and training Yemen's military.
Yemen, the Arab world's poorest country, also faces an on-and-off Shiite rebellion in the north and a separate secessionist movement in the south.
The violence Thursday started when militants shot and killed Abdullah al-Baham, security chief of the town of Mudiyah in Abyan province while he was on a routine inspection, town mayor Mohammed al-Nukhei said.
A few hours later, Abyan Governor Ahmad al-Maisari went out with troops to inspect the site of the attack but was ambushed by militants. The ensuing fighting killed four, including the governor's brother, and wounded three soldiers.
Security officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak to media, said they suspect al-Qaida militants, led by leader Anwar al-Ambari, were behind both attacks.
Later Thursday, a series of militant attacks elsewhere in Mudiyah and in the nearby town of Lawdar killed four more people. Three soldiers were also kidnapped during the attacks, the officials said.
Brigadier Saleh al-Shamsi, deputy police chief in Abyan described the situation as "very dangerous."
Also Thursday, the governor of the troubled southern Aden province, Adnan al-Gaafari, called on top provincial security officials to resign because of their failure to protect the local football club from twin militant attacks Monday that killed two and injured 12.
The attack in Aden came ahead of the Gulf Cup tournament that will take place in Aden from Nov. 22 until Dec. 4. Some countries in the region are having second thoughts about sending their teams to the competition amid rising al-Qaida attacks.