Yemeni tribal fighters enter Mukalla to drive out Al Qaeda

Witnesses and tribal sources said armed men were gathering outside Mukalla, and were waiting for reinforcements. (File photo: Reuters)

Tribal fighters entered the Yemeni coastal town of Mukalla on Saturday, seeking to drive out suspected al-Qaeda fighters who took control 48 hours earlier, residents said.

An alliance of tribal gunmen, who drove into the coastal town in pickup trucks, has pledged to restore security after the Islamist militants drove the army out and ransacked buildings, broke into banks and freed prisoners from Mukalla’s main jail.

The United States, which has carried out covert drone strikes on suspected al-Qaeda targets in Yemen, withdrew its personnel from the country last month after Houthi fighters pushed south towards the al-Anad military base used by the Americans, 60 km north of Aden.

The Shiite Houthi forces, which seized the capital Sanaa six months ago along with militias of deposed leader Ali Abdullah Saleh, are fighting supporters of the current president in the southern port city of Aden.

Saudi Arabia and regional allies have waged 10 days of air strikes against the Houthis to try to stem their advances and to support President Abdrabbu Mansour Hadi, who fled Aden for Saudi Arabia more than a week ago.

In a statement, the tribal alliance said it intended to advance on Mukalla and restore security after suspected al-Qaeda fighters drove the army out and ransacked the town, burning buildings and breaking into banks and the main prison.

"The leadership of the tribal alliance of Hadramawt...calls on tribes to mobilize towards Mukalla to keep the peace and stability in Mukalla and other towns in the province," the statement said.

Witnesses and tribal sources said armed men were gathering outside Mukalla, and were waiting for reinforcements before advancing on the town itself.

Suspected al-Qaeda fighters stormed Mukalla's prison on Thursday, freeing 150 detainees including a prominent local al Qaeda leader, Khaled Batarfi, Yemeni officials said.

They also broke into banks and set fire to the television broadcasting building, residents said.

Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:47 - GMT 06:47