Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has taken control of Zinjibar, a coastal city that is the provincial capital of Abyan. More than “300 Islamic militants and al Qaeda men” are reported to have stormed the city after government forces left earlier this week. From Reuters:
Opposition leaders charged President Ali Abdullah Saleh with allowing the city of Zinjibar, on the Gulf of Aden, to fall to the militants in order to raise alarm in the region that would in turn translate to support for the president.
Armed men believed to be from al Qaeda appeared to have full control of Zinjibar, in the flashpoint province of Abyan.
“About 300 Islamic militants and al Qaeda men came into Zinjibar and took over everything on Friday,” a resident said.
Opposition groups and diplomats have accused Saleh of using the al Qaeda threat to win aid and support from regional powers seeking his government’s help in battling the militants.
“Security withdrew and left the city of Zinjibar to armed Islamic elements that looted government institutions,” Ali Dahams, a leftist opposition official in Abyan province, said.
The opposition groups have said they could do a better job of containing al Qaeda than the president.
“Now individuals from the army and tribesmen are engaged in confrontations with the armed elements,” he said.
Opposition leaders have accused embattled President Saleh, who clashed with the head of a powerful tribal coalition this week, of using the threat of an al Qaeda takeover to convince the US and Saudi Arabia to back him. While Saleh has in the past cut deals with Islamist terror groups or looked the other way at their activities, this doesn’t mean AQAP hasn’t made considerable gains in Yemen on their own. AQAP has seized the opportunity to fill in the spaces where the Yemeni government is weak or non-existent. Areas in the provinces of Abyan, Marib, Shabwa, and Lahj are said to be under AQAP control, while the terror group is known to operate training camps in Aden, Marib, Abyan, Sa’ada, and in the Alehimp and Sanhan regions in Sana’a.