Men believed to be al-Qaeda terrorists reportedly took control Saturday of the southern Yemeni town of Jaar, which sits between a mountain range where al-Qaeda is active and the port city of Aden.
"They made checkpoints at the entrance, and they've spread out in the city," Jaar resident Walid Mohammed told the Associated Press, which reported the development. "They've taken control of government buildings."
An estimated 300 fighters who make up Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula have waged a relentless campaign of attacks on Saleh's security forces. The same group orchestrated the successful attack on the USS Cole on October 12, 2000, and has also attempted attacks on targets beyond Yemen's borders. These include getting a would-be suicide bomber on a Detroit-bound commercial flight in December 2009, and an attempt to blow up an airplane or Chicago synagogue - or both - in October 2010.
During the ongoing protests calling for the immediate resignation of Yemen's ruler of 32 years, Ali Abdullah Saleh, the President has drawn increasing numbers of police and security personnel into the capital. For Jaar, this meant it was up to the local residents to form committees to run their own affairs and see to their own defense.
Al-Qaeda has seized towns in Yemen before, but its men were chased off by Saleh's forces. However, Saleh's control over remote regions of the country has been tenuous even in times of relative serenity, and the takeover of Jaar may validate Western fears that a destabilized Yemen would become a terror stronghold.
Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, observers say, may be using the uncertain situation in Sanaa to expand its reach beyond safe havens in the mountainous hinterlands.