By: Hany Salahuldien
Friday, April 13, 2012
Zinjibar - Al-Qaeda, still smarting from the loss of its iconic leader Osama bin Laden, appears determined to capture the south Yemeni town of Loder in a bid to build itself a secure base in the Arabian Peninsula.
Its location between three provinces gives Loder strategic importance, and it can also provide a safe haven from bombardment from the sea, experts say, adding that the militant group is seeking to extend its influence across the region.
Despite the loss of an estimated 152 men in four days of fighting in and around Loder in Abyan province, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is still engaging Yemeni soldiers and local tribesmen in fierce firefights.
"Al-Qaeda has practically lost its refuges in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq, after it was crushed in Saudi Arabia," says Mustafa Ani, an expert on jihadi groups.
He says that following Bin Laden's killing in Pakistan by US special forces on May 1 2011, the network he founded has been weakened and is now "seeking to establish a safe haven in southern Yemen.
"Such a refuge would allow them to set up training camps and centres for recruitment and selection of leaders."
Elements of Al-Qaeda, who call themselves Partisans of Sharia (Islamic law), already control large swathes of southern Yemen, notably the Abyan provincial capital of Zinjibar, which they seized in May last year.
Loder lies some 150 kilometres (95 miles) northeast of Zinjibar.
The militant group's task has been made easier by the weakening of central power in Yemen because of the challenge to the regime of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, tribal rivalries and the ambitions of southern autonomists.