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Militants linked to al-Qaeda emboldened in Yemen
|Last Edited||ArmyDem Jun 13, 2011 03:04am|
|Media||Newspaper - Washington Post|
|News Date||Sunday, June 12, 2011 11:00:00 AM UTC0:0|
|Description||By Sudarsan Raghavan, Published: June 12 |
SANAA, Yemen — Islamist extremists, many suspected of links to al-Qaeda, are engaged in an intensifying struggle against government forces for control of southern Yemen, taking advantage of a growing power vacuum to create a stronghold near vital oil-shipping lanes, said residents and Yemeni and U.S. officials.
Over the past few weeks, the militants have swiftly taken over two towns, including Zinjibar, the capital of Abyan province, and surrounding areas and appear to be pushing farther south, said Yemeni security officials and residents. Increasingly, it appears as if al-Qaeda’s regional affiliate is seeking for the first time to grab and hold large swaths of territory, adding a dangerous dimension to Yemen’s crisis.
U.S. and Yemeni officials worry that a loss of government control in the south could further destabilize this strategic Middle Eastern nation, already gripped by political paralysis, violent conflicts and fears of collapse.
The government has not allowed journalists to visit Zinjibar. This article is based on more than a dozen interviews with provincial officials, government employees and tribal leaders from Abyan, as well as Yemeni and U.S. officials, and telephone interviews with residents of Zinjibar and surrounding areas.
They describe a ghost town where streets are a canvas of destruction, struck by daily shelling, air assaults and gunfire. There’s no electricity, water or other services. Tens of thousands, mostly women and children, have fled the city. Men have stayed back only to protect their homes. The extremists man checkpoints, and any semblance of authority or governance has vanished.