More than two months after the Yemeni Army ended a 100-day siege imposed by al-Qaeda in the southern city of Zinjibar, battles are continuing between the 25th Mechanized Brigade and al-Qaeda fighters entrenched in the northern end of the city.
Zinjibar resembles a ghost town as most of the city's residents fled to the neighbouring province of Aden to escape the oppression of al-Qaeda and its methods of terror.
The organisation's branch in Yemen, calling itself "Ansar al-Sharia", seized control of Zinjibar in late May. The 25th Mechanized Brigade held them off for three months until the army was able to reach the city and end the siege in September.
Adam Ali, a soldier in the brigade, told Al-Shorfa, "I did not expect to come out of this months-long siege alive. My comrades and I would wake up in the morning and not know whether we would live to see the evening, especially after al-Qaeda slaughtered seven of my comrades."
"Why did they kill our fellow soldiers after capturing them alive? Why did they behead them?" he asked.
Ali, who said he and his colleagues lived in a hole one metre deep during the siege and used the latrine only once a day, told Al-Shorfa how communication with Ansar al-Sharia elements was conducted during the siege.
"We used to talk to them using a telephone number they gave us over a loudspeaker. They called on us to surrender and give up our weapons to 'spare our five senses'. One soldier responded, not to surrender but to ask if he could purchase a few necessities in a market in the centre of Zinjibar that al-Qaeda controlled. He has not yet returned, and we know nothing about his fate," he said.
Ali said al-Qaeda fighters had barricaded themselves in people's homes and launched attacks on the brigade, which caused many residents to leave Zinjibar. They also fired machine guns in the streets and alleys to scare the residents who fled en masse, he said.
Saleh Salem, 40, a public sector worker, is one of the residents who fled the armed clashes to Aden.
Salem said he, his children, and his wife walked dozens of kilometres on rugged roads at night to reach Aden. He did not bring any possessions from his house.
"I have no idea what happened to my house three months after we fled the armed confrontations and the tactics al-Qaeda used to intimidate us and seize our homes as barricades which they used to attack the army," he said.
Abdullah Amarem, head of the political department for the ruling Congress Party in Abyan province and a Zinjibar resident, told Al-Shorfa, "Zinjibar is devoid of its residents. Their suffering has increased dramatically because of poor conditions in the refugee camps. Some have tried to return, but the army turned them back because of the danger and the landmines, and so that the army could continue its battle against al-Qaeda."
Amarem said when he tried recently to return to his home in a neighbourhood that is still under al-Qaeda's control so he could move his furniture to his temporary residence in Aden, al-Qaeda fighters took him to their emir upon his arrival to the city. They interrogated him and verified his identity before allowing him to move his furniture.
"I almost paid for moving my furniture with my life," he said.
Amarem described the organisation's fighters by saying, "They stand out with their black headdresses, shoulder-length hair and long beards."
He added, "Al-Qaeda decimated crops and cattle in Abyan and terrorised women and children. Families were forced to flee for their lives rather than face the horror caused by al-Qaeda's elements. They talk about Islam but have no connection to it. Otherwise, why do they slaughter the soldiers they capture, and why are they trying to establish an Islamic emirate on the bodies of soldiers and civilians?"