Al Qaida committed "horrific" human rights abuses during its 16 months in power in southern Yemen, Amnesty International has said.
The atrocities included beheading an alleged witch, crucifying a man accused of spying and amputating a man's hand for stealing, said the London-based rights group.
The abuses between February 2011 and June 2012, when al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula's (AQAP) affiliate Ansar al-Shariah took over parts of southern Yemen, resulted in "a human rights catastrophe" said an Amnesty report, which also accuses Yemen's government of abuses. "We believe that horrific human rights abuses took place and violations of international humanitarian law by both sides," said the report's author Celina Nasser.
Al Qaida's takeover of large swathes of territory in southern Yemen was the first time the group had governed entire towns and cities.
The 57-page report, Conflict In Yemen: Abyan's Darkest Hour, documents some of the violations during the conflict between Yemeni government forces and Ansar al-Shariah. It also sheds light on how al Qaida militants ran government affairs.
Al Qaida militants seized Zinjibar, the capital of Abyan province on the Arabian Sea coast, while Yemen was mired in the turmoil of a popular uprising against then-president Ali Abdullah Saleh. The militants also took control of several nearby towns. Saleh, once a US ally, stepped down in February under a Gulf-mediated US-backed deal. Al Qaida set up committees to rule southern Yemen. Its rulings and punishments were documented in videos released by al Qaida in Yemen's media arm. Amnesty compiled some in a nearly 10-minute video released with the report.
Around a quarter of a million people were displaced due to the conflict. The World Food Programme says that more than 10 million Yemenis - 44.5% of the population - are food insecure, many of them internally displaced.
Amnesty's report also points to the killing of civilians, including children, as a result of air strikes and artillery and mortar attacks by government forces trying to force out al Qaida militants from residential areas. Amnesty said Yemeni government forces used inappropriate battlefield weapons such as artillery in civilian areas. In other attacks, government forces appeared to fail to take necessary precautions to spare civilians, the report said. "We cannot rule out that some of these air strikes were carried out by US drones," Ms Nasser said. "We call on the United States to also investigate what weapons were used in these air strikes where civilians were killed."
This summer, a Yemeni military campaign against AQAP in southern Yemen was orchestrated by US military advisers and financially assisted by neighbouring Saudi Arabia. The US helped Yemenis from a command centre manned by dozens of US troops in the southern desert outside of the main battle zones. They co-ordinated assaults and air strikes, and have carried out drone strikes. "It's not only the Yemeni government. Any state that was supporting it, including the US, should bear responsibility for the killing of civilians," Ms Nasser said.
Since the offensive drove al Qaida from the towns, the militants have sought refuge in nearby mountain areas and retaliated with assassinations of security and military officials and suicide bombings. Ms Nasser warned that the conflict could renew, with both sides "committing the same violations."