SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Yemen's army recaptured a new al-Qaida stronghold in the south on Saturday, officials said, the latest success in a two-month government offensive aiming at uprooting the militant group from large swaths of lands captured during last year's political turmoil.
Three days of shelling of al-Qaida positions and warnings to local tribal leaders of further escalation drove the militants out of Azzan town, Ali al-Ahmadi, governor of the province of Shabwa said. He said the militants fled into the mountains and to camps in the deserts of two nearby provinces, taking captured armored vehicles with them. He had no word on casualties.
Azzan had been used by the militant group as a media headquarters, producing audiovisual material for distribution on militant websites.
The army's offensive against what is seen as the international network's most dangerous branch — which is known as Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula— has seen the recapture of several towns that the militants seized in the security vacuum that accompanied 2011's mass uprisings against longtime authoritarian leader Ali Abdullah Saleh.
The city of Zinjibar, the provincial capital of Abyan, and the town of Jaar were the first two strongholds that were recaptured by the military.
Al-Qaida has struck back using suicide bombers and assassinations of top military officials.
On June 18, a top army commander who was leading the fight in the south, Maj. Gen. Salem al-Quton, was assassinated while traveling in a three-car convoy in the city of Aden when a bomber threw himself on the general's pickup and detonated his explosives.
The United States is throwing its support behind the country's new president Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who took power after Saleh stepped down in February.
Hadi has tried to restructure the military by purging it of Saleh loyalists, replacing and demoting commanders.
Meanwhile, residents of several cities in western Yemen say days of fuel and electricity shortages have sparked protests.
Sanaa, the capital, has been hit by black-outs for three days. Minister of Electricity Saleh Soubai told reporters that Saleh had hired men to sabotage electricity towers that feed the capital and large parts of the country with power. Yemen's government accuses Saleh of trying to sew instability to hinder the purge of his loyalists.