Source: Reuters, 15/01/2012
SANAA- Dozens of al Qaeda militants have seized a small town about 170 km (105 miles) southeast of Yemen's capital Sanaa, a police source and witnesses said on Sunday.
They said the militants entered the town of Radda in al-Baydah province on Saturday night with little resistance from a small contingent of police and seized an ancient citadel and mosque.
The capture of Radda expands militant control outside the southern province of Abyan, where they have taken over several towns since an uprising against President Ali Abdullah Saleh began early last year that culminated with a power transfer deal in November.
Residents in Radda, which has a population of 60,000, said the group was led by Tareq al-Dahab, a suspected militant who had been handed over by Syria to Yemen recently while trying to infiltrate to Iraq.
Dahab is a brother-in-law of U.S.-born Muslim cleric linked to al Qaeda who was killed in an air strike last year.
Yahia Abu Usba, deputy head of the Yemeni Socialist Party and a Saleh critic, charged that the security forces appeared to have done very little to stop the militants from entering Radda and warned that al Qaeda was planning to strike at the oil-rich Maarib Province next, bringing it closer to Sanaa.
No Yemeni officials were immediately available for a comment.
The United States and Saudi Arabia, the world's largest oil exporter which helped broker the Gulf deal that allowed Saleh to transfer power to his deputy, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, have been worried that al Qaeda was expanding its control in the impoverished Arab state next to key oil shipping lanes.
Saleh critics have accused the outgoing president, who still wields a great deal of power through his family control of security forces despite handing over power, of turning a blind eye to the militants' expansion to show that his rule was important to keep al Qaeda out. He denies the charges.