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Yemen's Saleh cedes Al Qaeda hotbed to militants. Why?

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"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.

However, some claim that the city was given up willingly, with security forces evacuating the area on Friday.

Residents in Zinjibar were surprised to wake up and see armed, masked men taking positions throughout the city and telling then to return to their homes. The militants entered the city at night while everyone slept peacefully, according to two locals contacted by the Monitor who did not want to be named. There were no sounds of gunfire or explosions to suggest the city was taken by force.

“Saleh has surrendered the Abyan governorate armed militias,” said Gen. Ali Mohsen Al-Ahmar, a top military leader who defected from Saleh's regime in March to join the rebels, in a statement read by his spokesman.

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