Al Qaeda seizes two districts in Yemen’s Abyan province
Aden // Al Qaeda fighters seized control of two key districts in Yemen’s Abyan province on Wednesday, killing at least seven and seizing weapons.
The militants launched their attack in the early hours on Ja’ar and Zinjibar districts from their nearby strongholds in Abyan.
A local source said the extremists had taken advantage of a security vacuum in the area after local resistance fighters had left to battle against Houthi rebels occupying large parts of the country.
Ja’ar and Zinjibar, the capital of Abyan province, are about 50 kilometres east of Aden. The districts had previously fallen into Al Qaeda’s hands in 2011, before an offensive by the Yemeni army allied with local resistance fighters, known as Popular Committees, liberated the areas just over a year later.
The local source, a member of these committees, said he feared the Al Qaeda fighters were planning to take over more areas in Abyan and that the local population would be unable to resist as many of the Popular Committees’ fighters had left to fight in Lahj and Aden against the Iran-backed Houthis.
“By 5am the fighters of AQAP (Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) stormed the house of the deputy of the Popular Committees in Abyan, Ali Al Said, and killed him with some of his guards, and then they took over a weapons depot in Ja’ar and set up their checkpoints in the districts,” the source said.
He added that military reinforcements from the internationally recognised government based in Aden would be needed to drive AQAP from the districts.
Large parts of Abyan province were captured earlier this year by the Houthis and their allies, including the former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh. But the resistance committees, along with a Saudi-led coalition and Yemeni troops, drove the Houthis from Abyan and the rest of Yemen’s southern provinces in the summer.
As the front lines with the Houthis have moved north there have been fears that extremist militants, including Al Qaeda and ISIL affiliates will try to take advantage.
Abdullatif Al Sayed, head of Popular Committee fighters in Abyan province, said he had tried to repel the attacks and had informed officials that Al Qaeda had been planning to strike.
Fadhl Al Rabei, a political analyst and the head of the Madar Strategic Studies Centre in Aden, told The National that the Yemeni army should be deployed in Abyan instead of the government relying on the Popular Committees.
“The Yemeni government should not trust the Popular Committees to protect Abyan as they are normal people and any time they can become enemies of the government, so the fighters of the Popular Committees should be replaced with the Yemeni army,” he said.
Wednesday’s fighting in Abyan came a day after unidentified gunmen kidnapped a Tunisian woman working for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Yemen as she was leaving home for work in the capital Sanaa.
The ICRC identified the woman as Nouran Hawas and said she was in charge of a protection programme in the humanitarian agency’s Sanaa office.
Rima Kamal, the ICRC’s Yemen spokeswoman, said the gunmen kidnapped Ms Hawas and a Yemeni man after intercepting their ICRC vehicle in the morning. The man was released after several hours but Ms Hawas was still being held.
“At this point we don’t know who is behind the abduction, what are the motives, but we are trying to appeal to those [responsible] to release our colleague,” said Ms Kamal.
Two Red Cross employees were shot dead on September 2 in the northern province of Amran by an unknown attacker. They were Yemeni nationals returning from an aid project in the far northern province of Saada, an ICRC official said at the time.
* with additional reporting by Reuters
Updated: December 3, 2015 04:00 AM