Al Qaeda militants serious threat as Yemen transitions away from Saleh
Al Qaeda militants attacked several military bases in Yemen, killing hundreds and presenting an early challenge for the new government of Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.
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Al Qaeda militants in southern Yemen attacked several military bases in the region, resulting in the death of at least 106 people. The attacks show that militants continue to be a serious threat in Yemen, even as the nation attempts to transition from the dictatorship of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Some 78 soldiers and 28 militants were killed in the attacks in and around the city of Zinjibar, one of two cities under Al Qaeda control in southern Yemen, reports The New York Times. Another 55 Yemeni troops were captured by Al Qaeda and paraded through Jaar, the other Al Qaeda-held city, according to the Associated Press. A Yemeni official called the attacks a major escalation in the conflict, writes the Times.
Military officials said that the militants seized armored vehicles, artillery pieces, assault rifles, and rockets from the base's stores and turned them on the soldiers, causing most of the casualties. A Defense Ministry statement on Sunday said the fighting began when militants detonated "booby trapped vehicles" at an Army base in the region of Koud, near Zinjibar. The Associated Press reports that the wording of the statement suggested the base had been occupied by the militants before Army forces regrouped and took it back.
Zinjibar and Jaar were both abandoned by Yemeni forces over the past year amid the tumult around Mr. Saleh's government. Some of the soldiers were called to the capital, Sanaa, to bolster the government, while others left their posts.
The attacks on the military bases were just part of an uptick in activity for Al Qaeda, which also claimed to have killed a CIA officer in the southern province of Aden, reports Reuters. Journalists in Yemen received a text message on Friday saying that "The mujihadeen [holy warriors] killed a CIA officer on Thursday while he was in Aden Province, after tracking him and determining he was cooperating with the Sanaa government," Reuters reports. Yemeni and Pentagon officials denied the report, however, saying that a gunman did attack a US vehicle on Friday but did not cause any injuries.
The attacks present an early challenge for the new government of Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who took power last week after Saleh stepped down following months of protests and upheaval. Mr. Hadi, a longtime deputy of Saleh and a relative unknown in Yemen, has indicated his intention to crack down on Al Qaeda and retake the militant-controlled south.