According to Al Sharq al Awsat Online (in Arabic), al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has regained control of Zinjibar, the provincial capital of Abyan province, during fighting over the past several days. A translation of a portion of the Al Sharq al Awsat article is provided below:
Meanwhile, local sources said that presumed gunmen of al Qaeda took control of most of the Zinjibar City in the Governorate of Abyan yesterday. The sources told Al-Sharq al-Awsat the gunmen attacked military positions with mortar shells and machineguns forcing the army forces to retreat to the approaches to the city and reassemble in preparation for a counterattack. The sources said that the gunmen attacked the headquarters of the 39th Armored Brigade using mortar shells from the Hassan Stadium and Qal’at Shaddad.’ One soldier was killed and four others wounded while the number of the dead among the armed men was not known, the sources added.
The sources said that forces of the 119th Brigade, which has been stationed in Zinjibar since late September, came under an attack yesterday morning by gunmen in the Al-Kud Area where the forces are deployed. The gunmen also mined the roads between Aden City and Abyan to prevent the arrival of any supplies to the army, amid reports that the gunmen retook control of the city.
The city has been the scene of violent clashes between army forces and gunmen believed to belong to al Qaeda for three days now. The gunmen launched an attack on the army camps using various types of medium- and large-caliber weapons. As a result, many people were killed and wounded on both sides. In addition, seven soldiers, including an officer from the 25th Mechanized Brigade, were kidnapped on Tuesday. It is recalled that the 25th Mechanized Brigade came under a heavy siege by al Qaeda for more than three months before army forces, supported by US and Saudi planes, managed to break the siege and expel the Al-Qa’ida gunmen.
Keep in mind that three Yemeni brigades – one infantry, one mechanized, and one armored – are involved in the fighting in Zinjibar. If the Al Sharq al Awsat report is correct (and given that Zinjibar has fallen to AQAP once already this year, there is no reason to believe it is impossible for Zinjibar to fall again), then those claims last year by AQAP commanders that the group was raising a 12,000-man army (see here and here) do not seem so far-fetched as many analysts believed. And keep in mind that AQAP is doing exactly what it has said it would do with that army: take control of Abyan and Aden, and establish a caliphate (which it now calls Ansar al Sharia).
AQAP has deftly integrated sympathetic tribes and allied terror groups into Ansar al Sharia to effectively wage war against a fractured Yemeni “state.” The fact that it has been able to go toe-to-toe with the Yemeni Army formations and seize control of several major cities and vast areas in the south proves the terror group is more than a band of 300-odd fighters dispersed throughout the country.