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On January 16, Al-Qaida forces took over Radda, a Yemeni town 100 miles south of the capital, and captured the local prison, setting at least 150 convicts free. According to an Associated Press photographer, the al-Qaida militants who attacked Radda were equipped with rocket-propelled grenades, automatic rifles, and other arms.
Residents said that a black al-Qaida banner was flown at the top of a captured mosque. Around 200 militants invaded Radda from already captured points, according to security officials. These points included an ancient castle, mosque, and school. Some of the freed criminals were given arms and joined in the fighting, according to anonymous officials who were not allowed to speak to the media.
The officials divulged that the leader of the al-Qaida fighters was Tariq Al-Zahab, whose sister was married to Anwar al-Awlaki, an al-Qaida cleric and recruiter who was killed in a U.S. airstrike. The fighters maintained a security ring around Radda, so nobody could enter or leave.
Al-Qaida militants are taking advantage of the fact that the Yemeni government has been weakened due to an anti-regime uprising which was influenced by the Arab Spring revolts. This takeover has added to the number of towns that al-Qaida has already conquered in the mostly lawless south. After months of opposing protests, President Ali Abdullah Saleh finally ended his 33-year rule. The capture of Radda gives al-Qaida a foothold close to the capital, which is believed to contain many terrorist sleeper cells.
Thousands protested the security officials’ failure to protect the town in the provincial capital of Bayda. They blamed Saleh for the attack, as did some tribal leaders. “We are surprised by the silence of the security forces,” said one protester, Abdel-Rahman al-Rashid, who lives in Radda. “They have not moved, which only means that this is all arranged to spark chaos.”
Yemen, being the poorest nation in the Arab world, has long been in danger of splitting up along regional lines, with al-Qaida in possession of remote, guarded areas in the country’s mountainous areas. If this happens, Yemen could turn into something similar to Taliban-ruled Afghanistan and become a power base for militants to plot terrorist attacks against the US and its allies.
The active al-Qaida branch in Yemen has previously been connected to terror attacks on the United States and Saudi Arabia and is considered one of the most formidable franchises of the international terror organization. The US once viewed Saleh as an ally in the fight against al-Qaida. However, the US stopped its support last summer and encouraged Saleh to resign.