Fighters loyal to Al-Qaeda have seized control of villages near the Yemeni port city of Mukalla in an apparent bid to take over swathes of the southeastern province of Hadramawt, the interior ministry and residents said on Friday.
The ministry condemned what it said was a “terrorist plot to proclaim an Islamic emirate in the Ghayl Bawazir area” near Mukalla, the provincial capital.
It said the uprising in Hadramawt would suffer the “same fate as that in Abyan,” a province just east of the main southern port of Aden, where Al-Qaeda loyalists held the major towns from 2011-12 before being expelled by the army.
Residents of Ghayl Bawazir told AFP that the jihadists had taken advantage of an absence of security forces from the area to deploy in strength and had already distributed leaflets declaring their rule.
In areas of the south that they seized in 2011, taking advantage of a collapse of central government control during 11 months of protests that eventually forced veteran president Ali Abdullah Saleh from power, the militants enforced a strict version of Islamic law.
Punishments included public executions and amputations.
The latest move by the jihadists, who had regrouped in the mountains of the southeast after being ousted from Abyan, came as US President Barack Obama announced new guidelines for US drone strikes against Al-Qaeda targets in Yemen.