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Yemeni troops kill seven suspected al Qaeda militants

ADEN (Reuters) - Yemeni security forces killed seven suspected al Qaeda militants on Thursday when they tried to attack an army facility in the volatile eastern region of Wadi Hadramout, where the government is perceived to be weak.

The Defence Ministry said on its website the militants' target was the headquarters of the first military district, whose jurisdiction covers the region, in Hadramout's second largest city of Seiyoun, some 650 km (400 miles) from Aden.

A small number of militants also briefly took over several government buildings, including the police headquarters and an intelligence office, in the nearby town of al Qoton early on Thursday, residents said.

They stormed an agricultural bank and threw money on the streets for people to pick up before withdrawing when army troops arrived, the residents said.

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is exploiting a power vacuum to carve out areas of dominance in south and east Yemen following a 2011 uprising that ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

The militants dispersed into more remote areas in May after a military campaign drove them out of their main strongholds in Shabwa and Abyan provinces.

Locals say the militants are seeking to impose a radical version of Islamic law in Hadramout. Residents of Seiyoun said last month that leaflets had been distributed warning women not to go out without being accompanied by a man.

Nine suspected al Qaeda militants were killed in Hadramout on Wednesday when they tried to ambush troops heading to eastern Yemen to bolster state authority there.

The United States regards AQAP as one of the most active wings of the militant network founded by Osama bin Laden. Washington has stepped up its support for the government and military, with drone strikes at the heart of its strategy.

(Reporting by Mohammed Mukhashaf; Writing by Maha El Dahan; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

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