Qaeda gunmen seize Yemen city

Qaeda gunmen seize Yemen city

The witnesses said that most residents had fled Zinjibar, the capital of Abyan province with a population of more than 20,000, to nearby Aden, about 30 kilometres away.

Yemen’s opposition accused embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh of having allowed Zinjibar to be overrun by the gunmen to raise fears concerning al-Qaeda and boost his flagging international support.

The suspected al-Qaeda fighters “were able to gain control of the city of Zinjibar ... and took over all government facilities,” except for the headquarters of the 25th mechanised brigade, which is besieged by militants, the security official said.

Witnesses said that the gunmen on Sunday were still battling members of the besieged brigade.

“We will fight until the last bullet, and we will not surrender to the gunmen who killed our colleagues,” an officer from the brigade said, reached by telephone.

Prisoners freed

Residents who fled reported heavy fighting in the city on Friday and Saturday, and said the attackers had freed dozens of prisoners from the main jail in Zinjibar.

One witness said on condition of anonymity that the gunmen executed soldiers who surrendered, and that residents were not able to bury them.

“Most of the residents of Zinjibar have left,” another witness said.

Nazir Ahmed Said, one of those who fled to Aden, the south’s main city, said he left because Zinjibar “is under the control of gunmen who say they are from al-Qaeda.”