By Mohammed Mukhashaf
ADEN (Reuters) - Militants linked to al Qaeda celebrated on Monday one of their deadliest attacks on the Yemeni army, parading military hardware seized after they killed more than 110 soldiers, as the Yemeni president swore to pursue the group with full force.
The militants said they had also captured some 70 soldiers in a raid after suicide bomb attacks on two military posts outside the southern city of Zinjibar on Sunday, the most lethal attack since president Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi took office last month.
Residents said militants from the al Qaeda-linked Ansar al-Sharia displayed weapons and military vehicles, extolling their "victory" by megaphone in the streets of Jaar, the town that is their stronghold, some 15 km (10 miles) north of the Abyan provincial capital of Zinjibar.
"The festivities have been going on since last night, celebrating what they described as gains for Ansar al-Sharia, and they displayed the loot in front of everyone," said one resident who declined to give his name.
At least 20 militants also died in the fighting.
"We intend to confront terrorism with full force and whatever the matter we will pursue it to the very last hiding place," Hadi said at a meeting with British minister for the Middle East and North Africa Alistair Burt, according to the state news agency Saba.
The violence highlights the challenges Hadi faces as he tries to stabilize Yemen after a year of political upheaval that eventually unseated his predecessor, Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Medics said at least 110 Yemeni soldiers died in the bombings and the subsequent clashes between government forces and militants. A source at the military hospital in Aden, a nearby port city, said bodies were piling up in the morgue.
The army said it had sent reinforcements to the area from Aden on Sunday and managed to beat the militants back.
"Reinforcements were sent to the area and it was recaptured. Elements of al Qaeda or Ansar al-Sharia took light weapons and three rocket launchers, but the rest of the weapons were recovered," said a spokesman for the council that oversees the running of the army, who put the number of soldiers killed in the fighting at 51.
TORRENT OF ATTACKS
Militants exploited anti-government protests that paralyzed Yemen for most of 2011 to seize the town of Jaar in March last year. Two months later, they captured Zinjibar.
Zinjibar has been the site of regular clashes between the army and Islamist fighters, despite government claims to have "liberated" the city from militants last September.
Last week Ansar al-Sharia said it would unleash a torrent of attacks unless the army pulled its forces away from Zinjibar within 10 days.
A U.S. ally in the fight against al Qaeda, Yemen has allowed Washington to launch drone strikes on militants who regrouped there after successive blows suffered in Iraq and Saudi Arabia.
Opponents of Saleh accuse him of manipulating -- even encouraging -- the threat of al Qaeda to secure the backing of Saudi Arabia and the United States as a key element of their counter-terrorism strategy.
Wary of al Qaeda empowerment in Yemen, Washington and Riyadh threw their weight behind a Gulf-brokered plan under which Saleh gave way to Hadi, who will govern the country for the next two years.
Sunday's was the second attack in as many days on military targets in the south, and one of at least five the group has claimed since Hadi was sworn in on February 25.
A suicide bombing just hours after Hadi's inauguration killed at least 26 people at a presidential palace in eastern Yemen.
(Additional reporting by Mohammed Ghobari; Writing by Isabel Coles; editing by Sami Aboudi)