Combating AQAP and other militant groups in Yemen has been the focal point of the US-Yemen relationship, which is based mostly on cooperation in counterterrorism efforts. The takeover in Zinjibar is likely to heighten US concerns that militant groups in the country will take advantage of the chaos to build their strength and launch more international attacks.
AQAP has been responsible for several attempted attacks on US soil, most recently the so-called "underwear bomber" who attempted to bring down a plane on Christmas in 2009.
The Los Angeles Times reports that members of the opposition are blaming President Ali Abdullah Saleh for the Zinjibar takeover. Government troops have been withdrawn from the south in large numbers since Yemen's protests began in order to help President Saleh keep a hold on Sanaa. The region has a strong separatist movement and fought a civil war with the north in 1994.
Some opposition leaders even accused Saleh of intentionally allowing the Islamist takeover of the city to bolster his grip on power – he has long argued, particularly to the US, that without him at the head of Yemen's government, the country would be taken over by militants, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The Telegraph notes that although Saleh has consistently argued that he is a stalwart anti-Al Qaeda presence, he has also built alliances with political and tribal groups with ties to jihadis. Some observers suggested to the Telegraph that the militant takeover of Zinjibar was led by Khalid Abdul Nabi, an Islamist militant with links to Saleh.