Al-Qaeda militants have captured two towns in Yemen’s southern province of Abyan amid continuing conflict in the war-torn country, residents say.
Militants of the al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) launched a surprise attack on Zinjibar and Jaar early on Wednesday morning and overran the towns after defeating the forces of the Popular Committees loyal to the Houthi movement.
The militants then announced over loudspeakers that they had seized the towns, and set up checkpoints at the towns’ entry points.
Abdullatif al-Sayed, the head of the Popular Committees in Abyan, said local fighters had informed officials of the situation and tried to repel the raid but had been unsuccessful.
Fadl Mohammed Mubarak, a Zinjibar resident, said, “The entrance of al-Qaeda … happened in the absence of any state institutions, which al-Qaeda exploited.”
Jaar and Zinjibar had fallen previously to the AQAP militants in 2011. However, the Yemeni army drove the militants out over a year later.
The country is now embroiled in a protracted conflict that has seen Saudi forces and militias loyal to fugitive former Yemeni president, Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, launching military strikes against Houthi fighters in the country.
There have been increased warnings that the Riyadh's campaign could strengthen the grip of terror groups across Yemen.
Saudi Arabia started its Yemen campaign in late March, without a UN mandate, in a bid to undermine the Houthi movement and to restore power to Hadi, an ally of Riyadh.
The conflict in Yemen has reportedly killed more than 7,500 people and injured over 14,000 others.
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