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The army forces pounded the hideouts of the terrorists in and around Zinjibar city, the provincial capital city of Abyan, with an intensive artillery shelling and Katyusha rockets, killing a top leader and three of his bodyguards, the security official said on condition of anonymity.
"The army forces rained the al-Qaida strongholds in the suburbs of Zinjibar with heavy artillery shells, bombing a vehicle of the group's top leader in Abyan," the official said.
"The leader and his three bodyguards were killed instantly while dozens of others were injured during the army bombardment," he said, adding that the strike was "the heaviest of its kind in weeks."
The official was unable to provide further details about the killed al-Qaida leader and his name.
A source close to the al-Qaida fighters confirmed to Xinhua the army bombing, saying that "our strongholds are under repeated and unprecedented artillery bombing by U.S.-backed army forces since this afternoon."
Abyan, some 480 km south of the Yemeni capital Sanaa, has been the scene of fierce daily fighting after hundreds of militants of the Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) captured Zinjibar and at least three other towns in May 2011.
The ongoing fighting shows the country's fragile security situation days ahead of the early presidential elections slated on Feb. 21, which will end the rule of outgoing President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who is currently in the United States for medical treatment.