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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.

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The Los Angeles Times reports that members of the opposition are blaming President Ali Abdullah Saleh for the Zinjibar takeover. Government troops have been withdrawn from the south in large numbers since Yemen's protests began in order to help President Saleh keep a hold on Sanaa. The region has a strong separatist movement and fought a civil war with the north in 1994.

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Some opposition leaders even accused Saleh of intentionally allowing the Islamist takeover of the city to bolster his grip on power – he has long argued, particularly to the US, that without him at the head of Yemen's government, the country would be taken over by militants, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The Telegraph notes that although Saleh has consistently argued that he is a stalwart anti-Al Qaeda presence, he has also built alliances with political and tribal groups with ties to jihadis. Some observers suggested to the Telegraph that the militant takeover of Zinjibar was led by Khalid Abdul Nabi, an Islamist militant with links to Saleh.

AQAP's strength has grown in Abyan Province. Government forces clashed with militants in August 2010, when government troops tried to push them out of a stonghold a few months after AQAP raided an ammunition store elsewhere in the province. According to the Telegraph, AQAP's growing strength is partially due to an unlikely alliance with the mostly secular southern secessionists.

Also this weekend, progovernment forces violently broke up a sit-in in the southern city of Taiz (see map), killing at least 20 protesters, Agence France-Presse reports. The Taiz sit-in has been ongoing for four months and only ended when the forces burned the protest camp's tents and began firing on the demonstrators. Clashes began Sunday night when protesters gathered at a local police station to demand the release of a prisoner.

While the situation in the south has deteriorated, a tentative, temporary truce has been reached in Sanaa between forces loyal to Saleh, opposition fighters, and tribesmen, Agence France-Presse reports. Fighting there escalated in the past week as thousands of armed tribesmen came to the capital city.

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