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Qaeda-linked militants lash five Yemenis for drug use

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Suspected al-Qaeda militants in Yemen handed out 80 lashes each to five youths they said had taken narcotic pills in the latest show of summary justice in the restive south, witnesses said on Saturday.

The punishment was carried out in a large field in front of dozens of witnesses summoned to watch in the militant-controlled town of Jaar in Abyan province on Friday night.

The five young men were given 80 lashes each and then set free, the witnesses said.

Since May, al-Qaeda-linked militants have taken control of several towns in Abyan, including the provincial capital Zinjibar, as 10 straight months of protests against veteran President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s regime have weakened central government control.

In recent weeks, the militants of the Partisans of Sharia (Islamic law) group have enforced their own very strict interpretation of Islamic justice.

On September 25, the militants severed the hand of a 15-year-old as punishment for stealing electrical cables. He later died from blood loss.

At least two other men have had their hands severed since the boy’s death and another Yemeni was executed after the militants accused him of murder.

The town of Jaar, where all the punishments have taken place, remains under militant control and residents say there is no government presence.

In the provincial capital meanwhile, six suspected al-Qaeda militants were killed in overnight clashes with government troops, an official said.

“The clashes erupted when the militants tried to infiltrate a military unit,” the official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

“Six militants were killed, including one of Asian descent,” he said, adding that at least three others were wounded.

South Yemen has witnessed an escalation in violence in recent weeks as government troops, backed by US drones, have battled to retake control of towns lost to the militants.

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, has taken advantage of 10 months of sweeping demonstrations against Saleh’s rule to bolster its presence in the restive south and east of Yemen, launching repeated attacks.