Middle East

Yemen suicide bomber kills 45 in Abyan

Men looking at blast site
Image caption The group had gathered for a funeral when the suicide bomber struck

The Yemeni government has blamed al-Qaeda for a suicide bombing that has killed at least 45 people in the southern province of Abyan.

Dozens more were wounded in the attack on a funeral in the city of Jaar.

The bomber is said to have detonated an explosive belt during the service held by a tribal militia that supported the army during recent fighting.

Earlier, five alleged al-Qaeda militants were killed in a suspected US drone strike, Yemeni officials said.

The drone reportedly targeted their vehicle in Hadramawt province.

'Security vacuum'

Local governor Jamal al-Aqal said in a statement that an investigation had been opened into the "criminal and cowardly" attack on the funeral service.

A witness told Agence France-Presse news agency: "Bodies were flying in all directions because the explosion was so powerful."

The Yemeni army carried out a major offensive against Islamist militants in Abyan earlier this year, taking control of the region in June with the help of civilian militias comprised of local tribesmen.

Separatist unrest and al-Qaeda-linked militants such as Ansar al-Sharia have plagued the south for years.

This attack has increased fears that Ansar al-Sharia remains active in the area, BBC Middle East correspondent Yolande Knell says.

On Wednesday, militants attacked a police station in Jaar, killing several people.

Al-Qaeda took advantage of a security vacuum during a year of protests against the former president Ali Abdullah Saleh to seize large parts of the south and east, our correspondent says.

When President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi came to power this year, he pledged his forces would crush the militants.

The United States has used its drones in the region to support the military campaign.