ADEN - Gunmen shot dead a senior Yemeni military intelligence officer who had been targeted for assassination by al-Qaida-linked militants, a local security official said.

Colonel Abdullah al-Rabaki was walking home in the city of Mukalla in Hadramawt Province late on Friday when the gunmen shot him six times with a revolver fitted with a silencer, the official said. They escaped on a motorbike.

Leaflets from Islamist militants allied to al-Qaida had previously been circulated in the city on Yemen's south coast, calling for Rabaki's assassination, the official said.

Tackling lawlessness in Yemen, which lies near important oil shipment routes and flanks the world's biggest oil exporter Saudi Arabia, is an international priority for the United States and other Western countries. It is home to an al- Qaida wing that has planned international bomb plots.

More than 60 army and security officers have been assassinated in the country's southern provinces in the past two years as government forces attempt to wrestle back control of areas seized by militants during the chaos of the Arab Spring.

As well as battling an Islamist insurgency in the south, the government faces a southern separatist movement and a revolt among some tribes in the impoverished country's north.

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