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SANAA, Yemen (AP) Al-Qaeda militants attacked an airport in southern Yemen on Thursday and bombed its air traffic control tower, setting off clashes with Yemeni troops that left 11 people dead, security officials said.

The officials said the coordinated attack on the Sayoun airport in the southern province of Hadramawt saw militants approach from three different directions early on Thursday.

An airplane carrying passengers from the capital Sanaa, which was making a transit stop in Sayoun en route to Dubai, was caught in the crossfire. One of the passengers told The Associated Press over the phone that there was gunfire all around and soldiers on the runway.

The military deployed tanks and heavy weapons, and eventually forced the militants out, officials said.

Medical officials said five soldiers and six militants were killed in the gunbattle, while scores of others were wounded.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to media. There were no immediate details on casualties.

The attack came just hours after security forces arrested a number of suspected militants in the town of Sayoun, known for having a strong al-Qaida presence.

The Yemeni government launched a major offensive in the spring in an attempt to drive al-Qaida militants from their southern strongholds. The United States is financing most of the government operations and providing logistical support in addition to launching drone strikes against the insurgents.

The U.S. has long considered Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula to be the most dangerous branch of the global terror network. It has been linked to a number of failed attempts to attack the United States.