ADEN (Reuters) - Gunmen linked to al Qaeda abducted and killed an intelligence officer in southern Yemen, sparking a clash in which two attackers and a government soldier were killed on Thursday, a local official said.
Ansar al Sharia, a group affiliated with al Qaeda, said in a statement it had executed the officer for spying on its members.
It was the most recent of a string of attacks on security officials in southern Yemen, swathes of which are controlled by Islamist fighters.
The gunmen snatched the officer from the provincial city of Mukalla on Wednesday and shot him dead several hours later, an official in the southern province Hadramout said.
Security forces and troops traded fire with the gunmen after discovering the body, the official said.
Also on Thursday, Islamist militants killed a Yemeni soldier and injured another during an attack on a military checkpoint in the southern province of Lahj.
The Islamists' presence in the south expanded during a year of mass protest against former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. A split in the military has led to fighting among rival units and threatened to tip into civil war.
Saleh gave way to his deputy last month under the terms of a power transfer deal crafted by his Gulf neighbors with U.S. and U.N. backing. It envisions elections in 2014, with the military to be restructured in the meantime.
Saleh's son and nephew have control of key units armed for "counter-terrorism" by the United States, which was the target of an abortive bomb plot by the Yemeni branch of al Qaeda.
(Reporting by Mohammed Mukhashaf; Writing by Joseph Logan; Editing by Andrew Roche)