By Mohammed Mukhashaf
ADEN (Reuters) - Militants killed seven Yemeni soldiers in an attack on their outpost in southern Yemen early on Sunday, the defense ministry said, a day after at least 20 troops were killed in a similar raid by Islamist fighters linked to al Qaeda.
The defense ministry's September 26 news portal said "seven soldiers were martyred in a treacherous terrorist attack on their outpost" near the city of Shibam, in the southern Hadramout province.
The Yemeni defense minister was due to brief parliament on Sunday on a series of attacks that have killed nearly 200 Yemeni soldiers since President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi took office in February under a Gulf Arab deal with U.S. backing.
Officials have blamed an al Qaeda-linked Islamist group that controls swathes of territory in southern Yemen for the attacks.
The militants were emboldened by chaos in the armed forces following a year of political upheaval in Yemen that saw mass protests and split the armed forces as Yemenis demanded that President Ali Abdullah Saleh step down after 33 years in office.
The United States and oil giant Saudi Arabia engineered the transfer of power that saw Hadi succeed Saleh. Hadi's main task is to try to restore stability so that the militants have fewer opportunities to exploit central government weakness.
Almotamar, an online website run by former President Ali Abdullah Saleh's General People's Congress party, said Sunday's attack took place at dawn when militants stormed a military outpost.
"The attack bears the fingerprints of al Qaeda," it quoted a security source as saying without giving further details.
The attack appeared to mirror Saturday's, in which militants raided the al-Hurur military checkpoint in the southern Abyan province, killing at least 20 soldiers, according to a senior military official.
The Yemeni interior ministry put the death toll at 13 soldiers, while the militant Ansar al-Sharia group, which claimed the attack, said about 30 soldiers had died, and seized military hardware.
A local official in Abyan on Sunday said that a Yemeni warplane destroyed a tank captured by the militants during Saturday's attack and killed an unknown number of gunmen.
The Yemeni army has also surrounded the area around the checkpoint, the official added. Dozens of people have fled nearby villages, fearing artillery or other exchanges of fire in any further fighting.
Ansar al-Sharia, which controls large swathes of land in southern Yemen, mainly in Abyan province, has escalated its attacks on the military since Hadi's inauguration in February, vowing to fight militants.
Hours after he was sworn in, a suicide attack at a military base killed 26 people.
In their deadliest attack yet, militants killed at least 110 soldiers and took dozens hostage on March 4 in the Abyan provincial capital, Zinjibar.
The government has responded with air strikes on suspected Islamist hideouts, and the United States has repeatedly used its drones to attack militants, who have seized several southern towns over the past year.
(Reporting by Mohammed Mukhashaf; Writing by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Karolina Tagaris)