Al Qaeda militants in Yemen abducted and executed at least 15 soldiers Saturday, as reports suggested the terror group had grown more powerful than before in the war-ravaged country. The executions of Yemeni soldiers come days after the forces had driven out al Qaeda militants from parts of Aden last week.
The soldiers of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi were captured by the militants when they were passing through al Qaeda-controlled territory, according to Reuters, which cited locals. The soldiers were executed in a remote area by a firing squad, and several other captive soldiers are still believed to be held by al Qaeda.
The soldiers were reportedly returning to the al-Mahra base from family visits in Aden and were abducted while passing through the Abyan province, where al Qaeda controls the Ahwar city. Last week, troops loyal to president Hadi had managed to retake parts of Aden that had been seized by al Qaeda.
The Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has come to control several provinces in southern Yemen, including the port city of Al Mukalla, as Yemeni forces were deployed to fight the Houthi rebels who attempted to topple the government last year. The group also reportedly boasts of a $100 million treasury acquired through looting, extortion and taxing along the ports.
Yemeni officials told Reuters that while government forces and a Saudi Arabia-led military coalition were busy fighting the Shiite Houthi rebels, they "provided a suitable environment for the ... expansion of al Qaeda."
Al Qaeda militants went on to loot nearly $100 million from the central bank in Mukalla, and have come to run a sort of a quasi-state. The Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is the terror organisation's deadliest wing, and had claimed responsibility for the January 2015 attack on the Charlie Hebdo office in Paris.
The Islamic State group has also increased its presence in Yemen over the last year, claiming scores of lives in terror attacks. However, while ISIS has resorted to its trademark savagery to gain ground in Yemen, the al Qaeda has reportedly been able to win local support due to its Robin Hood-like activities, such as supplying medicines and abolishing taxes, while keeping its coffers full through extortion of oil companies.
Meanwhile, the Yemeni government forces and the Saudi-led coalition have largely been focused on targeting Houthi rebels, after they seized the presidential palace in Sanaa early last year. President Hadi had claimed last month much of the rebel-controlled territory had been taken back.