Yemeni Army Retakes Last al-Qaida Bastion in South

Posted June 15th, 2012 at 10:55 am (UTC-5)
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Yemeni officials say government troops have recaptured the last major al-Qaida stronghold in southern Abyan province. It is the third militant bastion to fall in a week during an all-out U.S.-backed offensive.

Friday's rout of Islamist fighters from the port town of Shaqra comes just days after Yemeni forces regained control of Abyan's provincial capital, Zinjibar, and the town of Jaar to the north.

Thousands of troops backed by tanks and fighter jets are taking part in the month-long offensive, joined by local tribesmen.

The army says dozens of militants were killed during the fighting for Shaqra alone. It says hundreds more fled to their native towns and villages, blending in with civilians.

The militants have warned they will strike back with surprise attacks on civilian and government targets.

The al-Qaida forces have imposed a strict interpretation of Islamic Sharia law in areas under their control.

Al-Qaida militants seized parts of Abyan last year while the government was pre-occupied with fighting a pro-democracy uprising against then-President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Mr. Saleh's critics had long accused him of holding back the military from defeating al-Qaida in order to fuel instability in the country and justify a continuation of his three-decade long autocratic rule.