By Mohammed Mukhashaf
ADEN (Reuters) - Ten suspected Islamist militants and six soldiers died during a suicide bombing and assault on the main military headquarters in Aden on Wednesday, Yemen's Defence Ministry said.
The attack bore the hallmarks of previous assaults on military installations by al Qaeda, including one on the Defence Ministry compound in Sanaa in December and an earlier assault on the headquarters of the Second Division in Hadramout province.
State news agency Saba quoted a security source as saying al Qaeda militants tried to storm the army's Fourth Division headquarters in Aden's al-Tawahi district after detonating a car laden with explosives outside the main gate.
The Fourth Division controls the military in southern Yemen.
Witnesses and the separatist Aden al-Ghad news website also said a 10-year-old boy was killed and four civilians were wounded by shrapnel from a shell that missed its target during subsequent clashes between the army and the militants, who apparently were still holding out in the area.
Tawahi houses some of the country's main state facilities in Aden, including the presidential palace, the local secret service offices and the local radio and television studios.
Witnesses said they had heard the sounds of rocket propelled grenades as soldiers closed off roads to the area and engaged the attackers.
Yemen, a Western-allied country that shares a border with top global oil exporter Saudi Arabia, has been in turmoil since mass protests forced long-term leader Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down in 2012. His successor, Abd-Rabbu Mansour, Hadi has been struggling to restore order.
SERIES OF ATTACKS
The security source told Saba news agency that Wednesday's attack had been foiled at the gate of the army headquarters and troops were hunting militants who arrived in a separate vehicle to engage soldiers after the suicide attack.
"The security guarding the Fourth Division headquarters in Aden foiled a suicide attack carried out by terrorist elements of al Qaeda who had detonated a booby-trapped car at the main gate of the Division's headquarters," Saba quoted the source as saying.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is one of the most active branches of the network founded by Osama bin Laden and militants have plotted attacks against international airlines from there.
On Tuesday, two Yemeni soldiers and two al Qaeda militants were killed during a clash in the western al-Hudaida province, the Interior Ministry said on its website.
The website, quoting a source at the ministry, said the clash broke out when militants tried to free four of their comrades who had been seized in a raid by security forces on their hideout earlier in the day.
Saba later identified two of the captured militants as Saudi citizens.
AQAP, reinforced by Saudi militants with battle experience in Syria and Iraq, has staged a series of spectacular attacks on the Yemeni army since 2011.
Last month, suspected militants killed 20 members of Yemen's security forces in a dawn raid on a checkpoint located some 120 km (75 miles) east of al-Mukalla.
(Reporting by Mohammed Mukhashaf; Writing by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Angus McDowall and Tom Heneghan)