Al-Qaeda seizes another Yemeni town

Al-Qaeda seizes another Yemeni town
Dozens of al Qaeda militants reclaimed the town of Azzan in Yemen's Shabwa province on Monday, residents said, exploiting a security vacuum in the country's south.
3 min read
01 February, 2016
The Houthis and their allies still control the capital, Sanaa [Getty]

Al-Qaeda's Yemeni branch seized another town on Monday, setting up checkpoints at its entrances and besieging government buildings before dawn after days of fighting with southern separatists, officials said. 

The capture of Azzan marks the latest advance for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, which has exploited the chaos of Yemen's civil war to expand its reach. The security officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to brief reporters.   

The group captured the southern port city of Mukalla last year and has seized a number of towns as it has moved west toward Yemen's second city of Aden, where the internationally backed government is based.

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 neighbouring province. 

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. 

AQAP has suffered setbacks, losing its leader and several top officials to US drone strikes.

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 Shia Muslim Iran. The Houthis and Iran deny this. 

Al Qaeda views the group, hailing from the Zaydi branch of Shia Islam, as apostates. 

AQAP has suffered setbacks, losing its leader and several top officials to US drone strikes, and is also facing competition from the new Yemen branch of the ultra-violent Islamic State group. 

A Saudi-led and US backed coalition have intervened on the government's side, but the Houthis and their allies still control the capital, Sanaa, and much of the north. 

The al-Qaeda affiliate has clashed with the Houthis, but the areas it has captured are under the government's nominal control.

An Islamic State affiliate has also emerged in recent months, carrying out a series of attacks on Shia Muslims and government officials.  

Azzan, with a population of 50,000, is at a crossroads between Aden and the oil and gas-rich Hadramawt province, of which Mukalla is the capital.  

Officials and witnesses say al-Qaeda has a presence inside Aden as well, where it has set up training camps and smuggling operations in the city's port.   

It has been linked to several attempted attacks on the US homeland and claimed responsibility for the attack on a satirical French magazine's Paris offices a year ago, which killed 12 people.