Fears for Yemen increasing
Armed group including Al Qaeda members in control of capital of Lahj province after dawn attack
Islamic militants emboldened by months of turmoil in Yemen launched a surprise dawn attack Wednesday on a southern city, seizing entire neighborhoods after gunfights with government forces, security officials said. One soldier was killed and three were wounded in the fighting.
The armed group believed to number between 150 and 200 and to include Al Qaeda members, were in control of several neighborhoods in the southern part of Houta, the provincial capital of Lahj province, the officials said. Some of the militants were also deployed in farmlands just outside the city.
Last week, warplanes bombed militants' positions in and near the Abyan towns of Zinjibar and Jaar, and an army expeditionary force has been battling the militants on the outskirts of the two towns.
Militants, taking advantage of more than four months of political upheaval in Yemen, had attacked and seized two other southern cities in Abyan province in late May.
The capture of Zinjibar and Jaar in Abyan and Wednesday's attacks in Houta and Aden suggest a further weakening of the central government's authority that, if left unchecked, could cause the impoverished nation in the southern corner of the Arabian Peninsula to unravel or fall deeper into chaos.
Massive anti-regime protests have swept much of the country since February, and rival forces are squaring up to each other in the capital Sanaa after days of fierce street fighting earlier this month.
Ali Abdullah Saleh, the country's president of nearly 33 years, is in neighboring Saudi Arabia for treatment from wounds he suffered in a rocket attack on his compound in Sanaa.