Al-Qaida overtakes southern Yemeni airport, oil terminal

By Danielle Haynes

AL MUKALLA, Yemen, April 16 (UPI) -- Militants from al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula on Thursday took control of an airport and oil export terminal in southern Yemen.

The group seized control of the Riyan Airport and a military base nearby in al Mukalla, the fifth-largest city in Yemen. They also took over the Dhabah oil terminal on the coast of the Arabian Sea.


Troops loyal to Yemeni President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, were run out of al Mukalla by al-Qaida on Thursday.

The gains are an example of how al-Qaida has capitalized on the Yemeni government's attention being diverted by Houthi rebels.

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The Houthis made significant gains after Hadi fled the country in March. The rebels conducted airstrikes on his presidential palace in Aden, then took control over parts of the country's third-largest city, Taiz, including its airport.

Days later, Saudi Arabia launched airstrikes by a coalition of mostly Arab nations against the Houthis. The United States has also backed this coalition.

The Houthis captured much of the port city of Aden on April 2, the same day al-Qaida militants stormed a prison in Sanaa, setting free 300 prisoners, including a senior AQAP official.


The conflict has led to some tensions between the United States and Iran, which has allegedly provided support to Houthi rebels.

"We're well aware of the support that Iran has been giving to Yemen. And Iran needs to recognize that the United States is not going to stand by while the region is destabilized, or while people engage in overt warfare across the lines, international boundaries and other countries," U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said a week after negotiating a nuclear deal with Iran.

International relationships have been further complicated by the fact that Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on Thursday criticized the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen just days after requesting more help from the United States in its fight against the Islamic State.

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Meanwhile, UN special envoy to Yemen, Jamal Benomar, announced he is stepping down from his post Thursday.

"A successor shall be named in due course," a statement from the UN said. "Until that time and beyond, the United Nations will continue to spare no efforts to re-launch the peace process in order to get the political transition back on track."


UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Thursday called for a halt to hostilities in Yemen.

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"I am calling for an immediate ceasefire in Yemen by all the parties," Ban said during a National Press Club dinner in Washington. "The Saudis have assured me that they understand that there must be a political process. I call on all Yemenis to participate in good faith."

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