Al Qaeda has taken control of a town in Yemen just outside the capital, the latest in a series of towns and cities, the AFP reported.
Militants took over Rada over night on Sunday, overrunning it within hours, as they make their way towards Sanaa. The town is just 80 miles southeast of Sanaa, and close in distance to a strategic highway that connects Sanaa with Yemen’s southern and southwestern regions. Sources in the town told the AFP more than 1,000 Al Qaeda gunmen invaded the town.
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"Al Qaeda has taken over the town and is now the de facto power there," an anonymous local official said, the AFP reported. "The government's security forces have retreated to their bases and militants are now manning the checkpoints in and out of the town.”
The capture of this town underscores the growing strength of Al Qaeda in Yemen, as the group tries to take advantage of the weak central government, which has suffered for the last year due to massive political unrest, MSNBC reported.
"Al Qaeda has raised its flag over the citadel," one resident told Reuters. "Its members have spread out across the town's neighborhoods after pledging allegiance to Ayman al-Zawahiri during evening prayers (on Sunday)."
Opposition forces have accused President Ali Abdullah Saleh of allowing Islamist militants to overrun the city, in order to enforce his claims that he must remain in power, the Associated Press reported.
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According to the AP, militants made a security ring around Rada, stopping residents from leaving or entering the town. They also killed two soldiers and wounded a third of the forces in clashes with the army.
Al Qaeda pledged their allegiance to leader Ayman al-Zawahiri after they seized the town. As Reuters reported, the takeover is likely to raise concern with Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter, and the United States regarding Al Qaeda’s presence in Yemen, which is close to important oil and cargo shipping lanes in the Red Sea.