Is it my imagination or are the forces of extremist Islam on the march throughout the Muslim world?
The Christian Science Monitor:
Islamist militants took over the southern coastal city of Zinjibar (see map) this weekend, bolstering claims that Yemen's unrest, which borders on civil war, is leaving a vacuum that is allowing militants to gain strength. The clashes with the government have so far been concentrated in the north, around Sanaa.
About 300 militants took over the city Sunday after government forces stationed there left to boost security elsewhere. Several news outlets reported that the men are Al Qaeda fighters, possibly from the local franchise, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). However, the Wall Street Journal reports that although Abyan Province is an AQAP stronghold, local residents say the men are part of Ansar al-Sharia. That group is made up of local tribesman who aim to sent up a fundamentalists Islamic state in the country's south, as the Taliban did in Afghanistan.
According to the Associated Press, Yemeni airplanes struck Zinjibar Sunday night into Monday morning in an attempt to clear out the militants, turning swaths of the city into rubble.
Combating AQAP and other militant groups in Yemen has been the focal point of the US-Yemen relationship, which is based mostly on cooperation in counterterrorism efforts. The takeover in Zinjibar is likely to heighten US concerns that militant groups in the country will take advantage of the chaos to build their strength and launch more international attacks.
Other news outlets are reporting it was indeed AQ of the Arabian Peninsula that took over the town. The terrorists have been trying to carve out an independent caliphate in Abyan province for months and now appear to have a foothold in a key provincial city.
As long as the crisis continues in the capitol, the hinterlands will be fertile ground for extremists to exploit the absence of Yemeni soldiers and police. And it may take many months - perhaps years - for any new government to dislodge the terrorists from their new home.