ADEN — A battle between Al Qaeda militants and armed civilians for control of the town of Lawdar spread on Thursday to nearby Mudia, as the death toll from four days of clashes reached 185, local sources said.

Yemen’s army raided Al Qaeda positions in the southern Province of Abyan on Thursday, killing eight militants as battles between Islamists and civilians killed another two, local sources said.

“The Yemeni air force carried out four raids on Al Qaeda positions” on the outskirts of Lawdar killing eight militants in Al Ain, on the town’s southern entrance, said one armed civilian.

The air strike hit an army tank seized by the militants, who were trying to bring in from the provincial capital Zinjibar.

The army also fired artillery rounds at Al Qaeda positions outside Lawdar, residents said.

A source from the Al Qaeda-held town of Jaar, where the bodies of dead militants are usually taken, confirmed the toll and said the victims included three Egyptians, two Afghans and a Somali.

The militants have been trying to seize Lawdar since they launched an assault on an army barracks in the town on Monday, residents said.

The fighting spread to neighbouring Mudia, where armed men attacked a vehicle outside the town carrying Al Qaeda militants from nearby Shabwa Province to Lawdar, the sources told AFP.

“The militants traded machinegun fire” with the armed civilians, who have formed “popular resistance committees,” leaving one dead on each side, they said.

Residents of Abyan, mainly from Lawdar and Mudia, formed the armed groups in 2011 after Al Qaeda militants overran Zinjibar.

For their part, the Islamist insurgents fired mortar rounds on Lawdar and wounded 17 civilians, including two young children and an elderly woman, a committee spokesman and residents said.

Flames also erupted from the power plant that supplies electricity to Lawdar and Mudia when it was hit by a mortar round the extremists fired, the source said.

“Al Qaeda militants are shelling our town and targeting civilians,” one tribesman said. “It is random, vengeful shelling.”

Lawdar lies some 150km northeast of Zinjibar, which militants of the Al Qaeda-linked Partisans of Sharia (Islamic law) overran last May.

Al Qaeda briefly seized Lawdar in August 2010 before being driven out by the army, while armed men from Assal Tribe also drove the militants out of Mudia.

A tribal source said the militants wanted to recapture it because of its strategic location between Shabwa, Bayda and Lahij provinces where Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is also active.