Suspected al Qaeda militants seize Yemeni town
Suspected al Qaeda militants have reportedly seized the coastal town of Zinjibar in Yemen's southern Abyan province. Yemen's opposition has accused President Ali Abdullah Saleh of using the al Qaeda threat to build international support for his rule.
AFP - More than 200 suspected Al-Qaeda gunmen have taken control of the south Yemen city of Zinjibar after two days of heavy fighting with security forces that left 16 dead, an official said on Sunday.
The Yemeni opposition accused embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh of having allowed Zinjibar, capital of Abyan province, to fall to the gunmen to raise fears concerning Al-Qaeda and boost his flagging international support.
The suspected Al-Qaeda fighters "were able to gain control of the city of Zinjibar ... and took over all government facilities," except for the headquarters of the 25th mechanised brigade, which is besieged by militants, the security official said.
Residents reported that there had been heavy fighting in the city on Friday and Saturday, and that gunmen had freed dozens of prisoners from the main prison in Zinjibar.
One witness said on condition of anonymity that the gunmen executed soldiers who surrendered, and that residents were not able to bury them.
Dozens of families fled towards Aden, the main city in the south, among them Nazir Ahmed Said, who told AFP he left because "the city is under the control of gunmen who say they are from Al-Qaeda."
"Saturday morning, the gunmen called on residents by loudspeaker to go out and reopen their shops, but few answered the call because they are afraid," he added.
The security official estimated that more than 200 militants had attacked the city.
"The lack of concern from the authorities is unfortunate," he said, adding that "the leadership in Abyan province left the area before it exploded."
He was among the last security officials to quit the city, he said.
Five soldiers and a civilian were killed on Friday, two other security officials said, while residents of Zinjibar said they found the bodies of 10 soldiers, bringing the toll from the fighting there to at least 16.
One of the officials said that another two soldiers were killed Friday in clashes with suspected Al-Qaeda fighters in the town of Loder, also in Abyan province.
In a statement, the Common Forum parliamentary opposition coalition accused Saleh of having "delivered Zinjibar to armed groups that he has formed and armed, to continue to utilise the spectre of Al-Qaeda to frighten regional and international parties."
It denounced "the criminal plotting of Ali Abdullah Saleh" and reiterated its call for "the immediate departure" of the president.
Saleh has since January faced protests calling for him to quit office after 33 years in power.
He has been a close partner of Washington in its fight against Al-Qaeda, but United States and many other former allies have called on the long-time strongman to go.