In the past few weeks, Islamic militants have taken over two towns, including Zinjibar, the capital of Abyan province, The Washington Post reported Monday.
The Yemeni government hasn't let journalists visit Zinjibar and the Post said its information is based on interviews with more than two dozen officials, government employees and tribal leaders.
"They [extremists] want to create an Islamic emirate," said Mohammed al-Shuhairi, 50, a journalist in al-Kowd, near Zinjibar. "I have lived through wars here in 1978, 1986 and 1994. But I have never seen anything as bad as this."
U.S. and Yemeni officials said the loss of governmental control in the south would further destabilize the country where more than 1,000 people have died in clashes with government troops.
In an April interview, Abu Zubayr Adel al-Abab, reportedly a Shariah official with al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, described the militants as Ansar al-Shariah -- supporters of Islamic law.
"The name Ansar al-Shariah is what we use to introduce ourselves in areas where we work to tell people about our work and goals and that we are on the path of Allah," al-Abab said.