World and Nation

Yemen says militants are driven from two cities

Yasser Alarami contributed reporting.

SANAA, Yemen — The Yemeni government said Tuesday that the army had driven out militants linked to al-Qaida from two of their strongholds in southern Yemen, a region that has become a focal point of U.S. concerns about terrorism.

The taking of the southern cities of Jaar and Zinjibar by government troops represented an important victory for Yemen’s new president, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who has ratcheted up the fight against the militants since he took office in February.

But the militants still control large parts of southern Yemen, and it is unclear how long government forces will be able to retain the two cities.

While the government has made claims of military success against the militants in the past that have not held up, the new claim was corroborated by area residents and the militants themselves.

The militant group Ansar al-Shariah posted a statement online confirming that it had withdrawn from the two cities, saying that it had done so “to prevent the spilling of Muslim blood.” The statement said the group’s fighters had withdrawn from Jaar before government forces reached the city.

The militants, who had controlled the two cities in Abyan province for more than a year, fled to the nearby city of Shaqra, just east of Zinjibar, official media reported.

Ansar al-Shariah has worked with al-Qaida’s regional affiliate, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, an organization that has repeatedly tried to bomb U.S.-bound airliners.

Yemen’s military, which is supported by the United States and Saudi Arabia, received crucial help in recent weeks from local tribal militias called popular committees.

“With God’s help and guidance, and with the cooperation of citizens of Abyan, after heroic fighting, the armed forces and popular committees gained control of the city of Jaar,” Maj. Gen. Salim Ali Qatn, the southern commander, said in a statement on the Defense Ministry website.

In a separate statement, the governor of Abyan, Gamal Aqel, said, “We are involved in cleansing the entire province of Abyan from these terrorists who disturbed the security, stability and public order.”

Hussein Mohammed, a resident of Jaar who was reached by telephone, confirmed that military vehicles entered the city from the north and said that he saw militants fleeing the area.

He and other residents said that before Ansar al-Shariah fighters fled, they left leaflets around the city apologizing for any harm endured by Jaar’s civilian population.

Ansar al-Shariah moved into Jaar more than a year ago after it was abandoned by government forces.