SANAA, June 1 (Xinhua) -- Al-Qaida's regional branch in Yemen took control over another large city in Yemen's southeastern province of Shabwa on Wednesday, a week after they controlled the southern Abyan province, local officials and residents said.
"Following fierce battles with government forces, fighters of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) managed to seize the whole city of Azzan in the southeast province of Shabwa on Wednesday, announcing that the city of Azzan joins in their Islamic emirate," one local official told Xinhua.
Some tribal leaders and residents confirmed the news in phone conversations with Xinhua.
The tribal leaders said the AQAP militants were enjoying high- level activities nowadays because of the weak presence of security forces, which were pulled out to major cities to curb the four- month-long anti-government protests as well as to secure the government and foreign interests from sporadic riot acts.
Shabwa, some 458 km southeast to the capital Sanaa, is believed to be a stronghold of hundreds of al-Qaida militants, including the wanted U.S.-born Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Awlaki.
In the escalating unrest in Abyan, the gunmen of AQAP also took over Wadhiee district on Wednesday, which is the ancestral homeland of Vice President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi, another local official and residents said.
The AQAP declared Saturday to seize Zinjibar, the provincial capital city of Abyan which is located about 480 km south of Sanaa, as the capital of their newly-established Taliban-style Islamic emirate.
Meanwhile, a provincial government official in Shabwa told Xinhua that the governor of Shabwa held a meeting with tribal chieftains and dignitaries on Wednesday, during which they signed an agreement for forming armed popular committees to defend and protect the government facilities and residential neighborhoods.