"Saleh has historically exaggerated the threat of Al Qaeda in the hopes of securing money, military assistance, and a blind eye from Western partners,” says Gregory Johnsen, a Yemen specialist at Princeton University.
Indeed, Saleh has stressed time and again in his infamous Friday speeches that, should he be forced to relinquish power, Al Qaeda will sweep in and take over the entire country.
"Those who seek power in Yemen say that if I leave, Al Qaeda will vanish. The opposite is, in fact, true. Should I be forced out, Al Qaeda will complete its control over Marib, Hadramout, Shabwa, Abyan, and Jawf. These governorates will be forced to accept Al Qaeda,” Saleh said in his most recent Friday speech on May 20.
Government: Militants launched pre-dawn attack
More than 300 members of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) descended from mountains surrounding Zinjibar, the capital city of Abyan, late Friday night, according to a Yemeni government spokesman. They launched a pre-dawn attack on a local base for security forces late Friday night, before seizing control of the entire city, he said.
Such a show of force would not be unprecedented; in March, militants seized control of Jaar, another city in the Abyan Governorate, after raiding and destroying an ammunition factory, killing hundreds of workers in the process.