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Terrorism & Security

Islamist militants take over southern Yemen city

The takeover of Zinjibar is likely to bolster US concerns that the vacuum created by Yemen's unrest is allowing militant groups like Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to gain strength.

By Staff writer / May 30, 2011



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Islamist militants took over the southern coastal city of Zinjibar (see map) this weekend, bolstering claims that Yemen's unrest, which borders on civil war, is leaving a vacuum that is allowing militants to gain strength. The clashes with the government have so far been concentrated in the north, around Sanaa.

About 300 militants took over the city Sunday after government forces stationed there left to boost security elsewhere. Several news outlets reported that the men are Al Qaeda fighters, possibly from the local franchise, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). However, the Wall Street Journal reports that although Abyan Province is an AQAP stronghold, local residents say the men are part of Ansar al-Sharia. That group is made up of local tribesman who aim to sent up a fundamentalists Islamic state in the country's south, as the Taliban did in Afghanistan.

According to the Associated Press, Yemeni airplanes struck Zinjibar Sunday night into Monday morning in an attempt to clear out the militants, turning swaths of the city into rubble.

Combating AQAP and other militant groups in Yemen has been the focal point of the US-Yemen relationship, which is based mostly on cooperation in counterterrorism efforts. The takeover in Zinjibar is likely to heighten US concerns that militant groups in the country will take advantage of the chaos to build their strength and launch more international attacks.

RELATED: 5 key members of AQAP

AQAP has been responsible for several attempted attacks on US soil, most recently the so-called "underwear bomber" who attempted to bring down a plane on Christmas in 2009.

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