SANAA: Al-Qaeda militants have seized control of key areas in and around the port city of Aden, high-ranking security officials said Saturday.
Fighters took Tawahi district, home to a presidential palace and Aden’s main port, and were patrolling the streets, some carrying black banners, the officials said. The militants also took Crater, Aden’s commercial center, and parts of Dar Saad town, just north of Aden, including an army base that they turned into a training camp.
Security officials near the seized base, in Dar Saad’s al-Lohoum district, say it is now training some 200 militants.
The officials, who hail from the military, security forces and police, spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak to journalists. They said Al-Qaeda’s gains came in recent weeks in the wake of fighting in Aden between Shiite rebels and pro-government forces, after the front moved outside the city.
Al-Qaeda also has a presence in Breiqa city, west of Aden, and nearby al-Khadra city, the officials added.
Washington considers Al-Qaeda’s Yemen branch to be the most dangerous offshoot of the terror network.
Yemen’s conflict pits the Iran-allied Houthi rebels and troops loyal to the former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, against an array of forces including southern separatists, local and tribal militias, Sunni Islamic militants as well as troops loyal to President Abed Rabbou Mansour Hadi.
Al-Qaeda has gained ground lately in Yemen, profiting from the civil war which picked up in March when the Saudi-led coalition began a massive air campaign against the rebels and their allies.
Washington, meanwhile, has kept up its drone attacks targeting Al-Qaeda militants in Yemen, including one in June in the city of Mukalla that killed the group’s top leader.
Yemeni transport Minister Badr Bassalma told The Associated Press that Aden’s ports were secure and operational, without elaborating. He spoke from Saudi Arabia, where President Hadi fled to in March as the Houthis seized Aden.
A pro-Hadi force took control of Aden last month, after driving the rebels out, and are supplying their war effort partially from the area.