Al-Qaida in Yemen takes massive weapons depot from armywashingtonpost.com
SANAA, YEMEN — Al-Qaeda’s Yemen branch routed government forces from a large weapons depot in the country’s east Friday, seizing dozens of tanks, Katyusha rocket launchers and small arms, security officials said, as airstrikes by a Saudi-led coalition intensified in the capital, Sanaa, and also in Yemen’s second-largest city.
The seized depot is in Mukalla, the capital of Hadramawt — Yemen’s largest province, where al-Qaeda has been consolidating its control. Only the day before, the militants captured a major airport, an oil terminal and the area’s main military base.
The gains highlight how al-Qaeda has exploited the chaos in Yemen, where Shiite rebels are battling forces loyal to exiled President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. The Saudi-led air campaign in support of Hadi, now in its fourth week, has so far failed to halt the rebels’ advance.
Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, as the Yemeni affiliate is known, is widely seen as the global network’s most dangerous franchise and has been linked to several failed attacks on the United States. The group claimed responsibility for the attack on a French satirical magazine in Paris earlier this year.
However, the Saudi-led air campaign has not targeted areas with an al-Qaeda presence, including Hadramawt, where the militant group has long been implanted despite U.S. drone strikes and Yemeni counterterrorism operations. The coalition says the airstrikes are aimed at the rebels, known as Houthis, not al-Qaeda.
On Friday evening, hundreds of al-Qaeda supporters and fighters gathered at a theater in Mukalla to celebrate their victories in the Hadramawt region, singing war songs and chanting slogans.
Pro-Hadi forces did gain some ground elsewhere in Hadramawt on Friday, with fighters capturing the province’s Masila oil field, the country’s largest, commander Ahmed Bammas said by phone.
On the other side of the country, Saudi-led coalition airstrikes targeting the rebels intensified, with bombings in Sanaa and also Taiz, the country’s second-largest city.
The bombings were the most intense since the campaign began on March 26, the security officials said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters.
Thick plumes of smoke rose high above Sanaa as weapons stores in mountains overlooking the city exploded and burned, while local residents continued to flee the violence, said the officials.
In Taiz, the rebels clashed with army units loyal to Hadi, with tanks and heavy machine guns firing throughout the day and airstrikes hitting a military base of the Houthi-allied Republican Guard, the officials said.
Airstrikes also continued in Saada, the Houthis’ northern stronghold, and Aden, the southern port city that the rebels have been trying to take for weeks, in cooperation with forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, the officials added.