Al-Qaeda militants seize southern Yemeni town
ADEN – Reuters
AP photoDozens of al-Qaeda militants reclaimed the town of Azzan in Yemen’s Shabwa province on Feb. 1, residents said, exploiting a security vacuum in the country’s south as a civil war rages.
Azzan is a major commercial hub of about 70,000 people in an arid and mountainous region and was controlled by al-Qaeda for around a year until the group was ejected in 2012 by an alliance of tribesmen and armed residents loyal to Yemen’s since ousted central government.
“Dozens of al Qaeda gunmen arrived in the early hours of the morning and set up checkpoints at the entrances to the town and in its streets. They planted their black flag on government buildings,” one resident who declined to be named told Reuters by telephone.
“They faced no resistance or clashes,” the resident said, adding that tribal militia forces quit the area as it was being taken over.
Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has expanded during Yemen’s civil war, which triggered a military intervention by a Gulf Arab coalition last March, and also controls the major port of Mukalla in a neighboring province.
Sunni Muslim AQAP is viewed by Western analysts as the most dangerous arm of the global militant organization, and claimed responsibility for the deadly January 2015 attack in Paris on the satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo.
It has made its advances in Yemen as the Saudi-led coalition forces, which back the ousted government, have clashed with the country’s ascendant Houthi movement, which they fear is a proxy for Shiite Muslim Iran. The Houthis and Iran deny this.
Al-Qaeda views the group, hailing from the Zaydi branch of Shiite Islam, as apostates.
AQAP has suffered setbacks, losing its leader and several top officials to U.S. drone strikes, and is also facing competition from the new Yemen branch of the ultra-violent the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) which hold swathes of land in Syria and Iraq and is trying to expand its presence in Yemen and Libya.
Meanwhile, the Yemeni Ministry of Public Health and Population announced that a total of 7,006 people had been killed from March 2015 until Jan. 24, according to Cihan News Agency, citing the Yemeni official news agency Saba News.
The ministry said that a total of 16,509 people had been wounded in the same time period.
Some 1,368 of the dead were children, according to the ministry, while some 1,159 were women.