ADEN (Reuters) - Islamist militants shot dead five people on Wednesday including a Yemeni military officer and the regional head of the country's election committee in the province of al-Baydah, a local official said.
Gunmen opened fire on a car carrying Khaled Waqaa, the leader of a Republican Guard brigade, killing him as well as the head of al-Baydah's election committee, Hussein al-Babli, his son and two soldiers, the official said.
"A group of men in civilian clothing fired machine guns at the car as it approached the central market," said the official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Militant group Ansar al-Sharia claimed responsibility for the attack but said it had targeted only the military commander in revenge for the government's failure to fulfil its half of a deal under which Islamists quit a town they had seized.
"The attack came in response to the government's failure to comply with its side of a deal under which the mujahideen withdrew from the town of Radda," a spokesman for militant group Ansar al-Sharia (Partisans of Islamic Law) told Reuters.
Militants agreed last month to pull out of Radda, about 170 km (105 miles) southeast of Sanaa, in exchange for the formation of a council to govern it under Islamic law and the release of several jailed comrades.
The militants' spokesman said that instead of setting up such a council, Republican Guard forces had entered the town. He warned the assassination was just a preliminary response.
The violence underscores the security challenges Yemen faces as it prepares for a presidential election to replace outgoing President Ali Abdullah Saleh next week.
Weakened by a year of political upheaval, Yemen's government has lost control of swathes of the country, giving al Qaeda's regional Yemen-based wing room to expand its foothold near oil shipping routes through the Red Sea.
(Reporting by Mohammed Mukhashaf in Aden, Mohammed Ghobari and Tom Finn in Sanaa; Writing by Isabel Coles Editing by Maria Golovnina)