Yemen Army tightens noose on Al-Qaeda |
Arab News - 13 June, 2012
Yemen’s Army seized the Al-Qaeda strongholds of Jaar and Zinjibar yesterday, officials said, more than a year after the militants captured most of Abyan province.
In the first major victories of a month-long offensive, troops backed by armored vehicles stormed the town of Jaar after Al-Qaeda gunmen withdrew overnight, and hours later took control of the provincial capital of Zinjibar, officials said.
Al-Qaeda militants had overrun most of the southern province of Abyan including Jaar and Zinjibar more than a year ago, taking advantage of a central government weakened by Arab Spring-inspired protests.
“With the cooperation of the citizens of Abyan... the heroes of the armed forces and the popular resistance committees have taken full control of the city of Jaar,” the Defense Ministry said, quoting southern military commander Salem Ali Qoton.
“Al-Qaeda has suffered heavy losses... and dozens of militants have fled” the town, said Qoton, adding the army was able to reopen the main road linking Abyan province with the southern port city of Aden. The army also took control of Zinjibar, 12 km to the southeast of Jaar, a top military official said later.
“Zinjibar in total has fallen” in the hands of government forces, said Gen. Mohammed Al-Somali, the head of 25th Mechanized Brigade.
“Al-Qaeda fighters have fled the city after the noose was tightened on them,” he said, adding the militants had planted land mines and explosives before running away.
Twenty Al-Qaeda fighters were killed and others wounded in Jaar, Qoton said, while the bodies of six militants were found in Zinjibar, according to another military official who did not elaborate whether they were killed in yesterday’s fighting.
As news of Al-Qaeda’s ouster spread, dozens of Jaar residents took to the streets celebrating and firing guns into the air, witnesses said.
Armored vehicles moved into the town center in the morning, just hours after militants withdrew toward the nearby town of Shuqra, when “fighting with the army became fiercer,” one resident said.
Witnesses said they saw vehicles carrying militants, weapons and furniture heading east toward Shuqra, where many Al-Qaeda leaders are believed to be holed up.
The militants distributed pamphlets in the town apologizing to residents for dragging Jaar into a conflict with the army and for the damage caused by the fighting, according to locals.