Al-Qaeda confirms retreat from Yemeni port city of Mukalla

Yemeni loyalist forces gather at the scene of an Al-Qaeda suicide attack in Aden on April 28 following the capture by government forces of the southeastern port city of Mukalla and the nearby airport and oil facilities from the jihadists. (AFP)
Updated 30 April 2016
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Al-Qaeda confirms retreat from Yemeni port city of Mukalla

DOHA, Qatar: Yemen’s Al-Qaeda branch on Saturday confirmed it had withdrawn from the Yemeni seaport of Mukalla a week after government and Emirati soldiers seized the city used by Islamist militants to amass a fortune amid the chaos of civil war.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) said it had retreated from the port on Yemen’s south coast to save it from destruction and that a handful of its fighters had been killed.
The group said in a rare statement posted on Twitter that the withdrawal was meant to prevent government forces from moving the battle to their supporter's homes, markets, roads and mosques.
Around 2,000 Yemeni and Emirati troops advanced into Mukalla last Sunday, local officials and residents said, taking control of its maritime port and airport and meeting little resistance.
Mukalla has been the center of a rich mini-state along the Arabian Sea coastline that AQAP built up over the past year as it exploited conflict between government loyalists backed by a Gulf Arab coalition and Houthi rebels supported by Iran.
The Gulf Arab coalition said its offensive had killed 800 Al-Qaeda fighters and several leaders.
Government and Emirati forces based in Aden, about 40km (25 miles) away, have been mounting a ground push against towns held by Al-Qaeda along Yemen’s coast.
The lightning advance is a shift in strategy for the Saudi-led coalition forces, which for over a year have focused their firepower on the Iran-allied Houthis who had seized the capital Sanaa and driven the government into exile.
The civil war has killed more than 6,200 people, displaced more than 2.5 million people and caused a humanitarian catastrophe in one of the world’s poorest countries.
AQAP, which has planned several foiled bombing attempts on Western-bound airliners and claimed credit for the 2015 attack at the Charlie Hebdo magazine’s offices in Paris, has sought to carve out a quasi-state last year offering to export 2 million barrels of oil with the approval of Yemen’s government, which refused.


Several killed in blast in northwest Syria

Updated 42 min 43 sec ago
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Several killed in blast in northwest Syria

  • It was not clear if the cause of the blast near the market in the town of Jisr Al-Shughur was a car bomb, or a vehicle carrying explosives
  • All except one were civillians

BEIRUT: Fifteen people, all but two civilians, were killed in an explosion in the jihadist-held region of Idlib in northwest Syria on Wednesday, a war monitor said.
The cause of the blast in the town of Jisr Al-Shughur was not immediately clear, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
“The explosion hit next to the market,” killing 13 civilians, including the daughter of a foreign fighter, Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said.
“It is not known until now whether it was a car bomb, or the explosion of a car carrying explosives,” he added.
The Idlib region is under administrative control of Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham, Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate.
But the Turkestan Islamic Party, a group of foreign jihadists from the ethnic Uighur Muslim minority, also has a large presence in Jisr Al-Shughur.
The Islamic State jihadist group has sleeper cells in the wider Idlib region.
Idlib has since September been protected from a massive regime offensive by a fragile cease-fire deal signed by Damascus ally Russia and rebel backer Turkey.
But the region of some three million people has come under increasing bombardment since HTS took full control of it in January.
On Tuesday, regime shelling killed seven civilians, including four children, in the town of Khan Sheikhun.
Increased regime shelling on Khan Sheikhun has sparked one of the largest waves of displacement since the September deal.
Syria’s war has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since the conflict began with the repression of anti-government protests in 2011.