Al-Qaeda militants tighten grip on Yemeni town southwest of Sana’a


Al-Qaeda has overrun the town of Rada, some 130 kilometers (80 miles) southwest of the Yemeni capital Sana’a, local and tribal officials said on Monday.

“Al-Qaeda has taken over the town and is now the de facto power there,” one local official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

“The government security forces have retreated to their bases and militants are now manning the checkpoints in and outside of the town,” he added.

Residents said that the militants raised their flag over the town and pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri.

“Al-Qaeda has raised its flag over the citadel,” one resident told Reuters by telephone. “Its members have spread out across the town’s neighborhoods after pledging allegiance to Ayman al-Zawahri during evening prayers (on Sunday).”

The move is likely to raise concern in neighboring Saudi Arabia, the world’s No. 1 oil exporter, and the United States about a spread of al-Qaeda’s presence in Yemen next to important oil and cargo shipping lanes in the Red Sea.

Washington and Riyadh are pushing for implementation of a deal signed in November under which Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh formally handed power to his deputy to defuse unrest and restore order in the impoverished country.

Rada residents said the militants, who stormed the town of some 60,000 people overnight on Saturday, had killed two soldiers, seized the local prison and five police vehicles and were besieging government buildings.

Gunmen from the al-Qaeda-linked Partisans of Sharia (Islamic law) group control the Shaqra area.

The militants also still hold Abyan provincial capital Zinjibar to the southwest, where the military has been trying to oust them from the now mainly deserted city.