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Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Al-Qaeda on the move in Yemen

As the Yemeni government escalates its war against protestors seeking the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, Islamist groups in the southern part of the country are exploiting the power vacuum caused by the chaos to gain local and regional influence while they establish themselves in cities and towns abandoned by police and the army.

Meanwhile, the embattled president has once again reneged on a promise to resign, claiming that al-Qaeda and other Islamic extremists would take over the country if he left. It is a sign of how bad things are for Saleh that no one believes him. In fact, the president stands accused of ordering the abandonment of a key provincial capital to the militants in an effort to justify the continuation of his rule.

About 400 Islamic extremists have moved into the southern coastal city of Zinjibar in the lawless province of Abyan with the stated purpose of establishing a fundamentalist Islamic state in Yemen. There are conflicting reports about which group has seized this provincial capital and third largest city in the country, with some residents reporting that it is Al-Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) which has moved in, while other press reports identify a local fundamentalist tribal group known as Ansar al-Sharia. But Yemen scholar Gregory Johnsen tweeted on Sunday that AQAP has begun calling itself by that name recently.

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