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Al Qaida in Yemen seize dozens of tanks and Katyusha rocket launchers from government weapons depot

Published 17/04/2015

Al Qaida has exploited the chaos in Yemen, where Shiite rebels (above) are battling forces loyal to exiled President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed)
Al Qaida has exploited the chaos in Yemen, where Shiite rebels (above) are battling forces loyal to exiled President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed)

Al Qaida's Yemen branch has ousted government forces from a large weapons depot in the country's east, seizing dozens of tanks, Katyusha rocket launchers and small arms, security officials said.

The move came as air strikes by a Saudi-led coalition intensified in the capital, Sanaa, and also in Yemen's second-largest city.

The seized depot is located in Mukalla, the capital of Hadramawt - Yemen's largest province where al Qaida has been consolidating its control. Yesterday, the militants captured a major airport, an oil terminal and the area's main military base.

The gains highlight how al Qaida has exploited the chaos in Yemen, where Shiite rebels are battling forces loyal to exiled President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. The Saudi-led air campaign in support of Mr Hadi, now in its fourth week, has so far failed to halt the rebels' advance.

Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, as the Yemeni affiliate is known, is widely seen as the global network's most dangerous franchise and has been linked to several failed attacks on the US. The group claimed responsibility for the attack on French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris earlier this year.

However, the Saudi-led air campaign has not targeted areas with an al- Qaida presence, including Hadramawt, where the militant group has long been implanted despite US drone strikes and Yemeni counter-terrorism operations. The coalition says the air strikes are aimed at the rebels, known as Houthis, not al Qaida.

Pro-Hadi forces gained some ground elsewhere in Hadramawt today, with fighters capturing the province's Masila oil field, the country's largest, commander Ahmed Bammas said.

On the other side of the country, Saudi-led coalition air strikes targeting the rebels intensified, with bombings in Sanaa and also Taiz, the country's second-largest city.

The levels of the bombings were their most intense levels since the campaign started on March 26, the security officials said.

Thick plumes of smoke rose high above Sanaa as weapons stores in mountains overlooking the city exploded and burned, while local residents continued to flee the violence, said the officials.

In Taiz, the rebels clashed with army units loyal to Mr Hadi, with tanks and heavy machine guns firing throughout the day and air strikes hitting a military base of the Houthi-allied Republican Guard, the officials said.

Air strikes also continued in Saada, the Houthis' northern stronghold, and Aden, the southern port city that the rebels have been trying to take for weeks, in co-operation with forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, they added.

Meanwhile, the United Nations urged the international community to provide 274 million US dollars in aid to help save lives and protect some 7.5 million people affected by Yemen's conflict.

In a statement, the UN said that, along with its partners in Yemen, it needed the funds to purchase medical supplies, safe drinking water, food assistance, emergency shelter and to provide logistical support.

Fighting between the rebels and forces loyal to Hadi intensified in March, with the Saudi-led coalition of major Sunni countries in the region launching the airstrikes on March 26.

The Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian affairs says the turmoil has killed hundreds of people and displaced at least 150,000. UNHCR says shelter is emerging as a pressing humanitarian need in the country.

Earlier in the day, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi said his country had deployed naval and air forces as part of the coalition's efforts in Yemen, adding that anything else would require him to tell the public. Egypt is currently weighing the idea of holding joint military exercises inside Saudi Arabia.

"If forces go there, the Egyptian people must be the first to know," he said in a speech at the Military Academy broadcast on private CBC television. "Our forces, I tell you, are naval and air forces only, there is nothing else" in Yemen.

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