Islamic extremists believed to be linked to al-Qaeda have capitalized on the unrest in Yemen to seize at least two southern towns over the past two weeks, in what appears to be their first major push to create a territorial stronghold in the country, the Washington Post reports. Local tribal leaders and provincial officials describe Zinjibar as a devastated ghost town, devoid of electricity or water and scattered with checkpoints manned by extremists.
The militant group is made up of both local and foreign fighters, and calls itself “Ansar al-Sharia” or Supporters of Islamic Law. “They want to create an Islamic emirate,” says one journalist in the area. “I have lived through wars here in 1978, 1986, and 1994. But I have never seen anything as bad as this." Despite the destruction, the territory is strategically valuable, as it’s located near major oil-shipping lanes. "If they remain, they will have great impact on Yemen’s politics," says one Yemeni lawmaker. "They could end up ruling over portions of the south."