Security officials in Yemen say members of Ansar al-Sharia, an al-Qaeda-affiliate, are moving toward the eastern oil-rich province of Shabwa, which they hope to take over and declare an Islamic emirate.
"The security directorate is on high alert to mobilize efforts and prevent a repeat of what al-Qaeda did and continues to do in Abyan, especially after a number of al-Qaeda elements in Abyan moved to some areas of the border province of Shabwa, the Azzan and al-Hota regions specifically," said Brig. Gen. Ahmad al-Makdeshi, director of security in Shabwa.
Al-Makdeshi told Al-Shorfa that he and Ali Hassan al-Ahmadi, the governor of Shabwa, held meetings with tribal leaders about the need to consolidate security objectives to combat the terrorists. They also emphasised the need to place national interests above personal interests.
He said similar meetings were organized by the Director General of the Office of Endowments and Guidance, Mubarak al-Qurmoushi with Sufi and Salafist scholars and reformers to prevent infiltration by al-Qaeda elements.
"Security authorities, each to the extent of their capabilities, are pursuing and monitoring the movements of the destructive terrorists who have not yet established a military presence in Azzan and al-Hota," he said. "Those regions witnessed a military campaign around the same time last year when all Shabwa directorates were purged of terrorists who fled to Abyan."
Al-Qaeda operatives seized control of Jaar in Abyan in March and declared it an Islamic emirate, and did the same in Zinjibar, the provincial capital, in May. They gained control of a third city, Shaqra, in Abyan this week, according to wire services. Yemeni security forces are trying to prevent al-Qaeda elements from repeating the same pattern in Shabwa.
Al-Makdeshi called on all of the state's agencies to stand against terrorist elements and stressed the importance of combining government efforts with grassroots efforts "to spare Shabwa the evils of those groups".
He likened al-Qaeda to "a cancer, which, if it gains a foothold in the body, must be fought comprehensively and by all means available". He said the organisation must be confronted before it enters the province as it is currently still on the outskirts.
"Their entry into Azzan has so far been peaceful and is limited to some of the mosques. They have not entered it by force of arms or attempted to impose their systems," al-Makdeshi said
Local media reported that Ansar al-Sharia expanded its presence in Shabwa by seizing a number of mosques and entering into disputes with Salafists who control those mosques.
Al-Qurmoshi told Al-Shorfa that disputes broke out between al-Qaeda and a Salafist group over control of a mosque in the Azzan area.
"The Ihsan group, which follows the Salafist movement, was not allowed to deliver sermons to worshipers as they wished to do," al-Qurmoshi said.
The Office of Endowments and Guidance formed a group of Sufis, Salafists, reformists, and the Ihsan group to alert citizens not to oppose the opinion of the wardship in order to help Shabwa avert political, partisan and sectarian disputes.
Al-Qurmoshi said he organized a Ramadan evening event on August 15th with these groups in order to unify the ranks.
Ahmed al-Rahwi, the deputy governor of Abyan province, said clashes between al-Qaeda and the Yemeni army, which has the support of the tribes, are still ongoing and that small groups of terrorist elements remain in al-Kod, al-Musaimer and the outskirts of Zinjibar.
He said the 25 Mika Brigade -- government soldiers who are working in concert with tribesmen - is still effective and that military supplies and food continue to be delivered to the area by helicopter and from the sea. He noted a decline in operations during the month of Ramadan.
According to al-Rahwi, security forces arrested 12 suspected terrorists on August 10th in the Lawder directorate when they were attempting to plant an explosive device.
Al-Rahwi said the number of casualties al-Qaeda has suffered during the battle for Zinjbar has led some of its members to move to Aden province where the organisation has sleeper cells. He said al-Qaeda had expected to score a decisive military victory in Abyan and move to seize control of Aden next.