SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Yemen's al-Qaida affiliate overran a government-controlled town and killed a top militia leader at a checkpoint there on Wednesday, security officials said.
The militants shot and killed Ali al-Sayed, the deputy commander of pro-government forces in the town of Jaar, in the southern Abyan province, the officials said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.
They took photos of his bloodied body and posted them on social media before parading his body through the streets of Abyan's provincial capital, Zinjibar, the officials said.
Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP as the local affiliate is known, has exploited the chaos of Yemen's larger conflict, which pits Shiite Houthi rebels and army units loyal to a former president against the internationally recognized government and a Saudi-led and U.S.-backed coalition. Pro-government forces had recently driven the Houthis out of Jaar.
At least 20 fighters on both sides were killed during the battle for Jaar, the officials said. Al-Qaida then raided the homes of pro-government militia leaders and took people away, local residents told The Associated Press. The residents declined to give their names, fearing reprisals.
"The streets are all empty," a Jaar resident said. "Everyone is hiding at home."
Earlier this year, AQAP captured much of the sprawling southeastern province of Hadramawt and its capital, Mukalla. The group has also expanded its presence in the southern port city of Aden.
AQAP has long been seen as the most lethal offshoot of the global network founded by Osama bin Laden, and has been linked to several failed attacks on the United States. It claimed the attack on a French satirical magazine in January, which killed 12 people.
Yemen's conflict has killed at least 5,700 people since March 26, including 830 women and children, the U.N. said last month. The war has also pushed the country to the brink of famine, and the U.N. says over 21 million people — 80 percent of the population— need humanitarian assistance.
Britain's U.N. ambassador said Wednesday that U.N.-led talks aimed at ending the conflict will probably take place in Geneva in mid-December.
Matthew Rycroft told reporters that the U.N. special envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, has been meeting government and Houthi leaders and "preparing assiduously" for the talks. Previous talks have failed.
Rycroft said the Security Council is united and is urging all parties to enter the new talks "without preconditions," and to send delegations empowered to make decisions.
"One of the reasons why a resolution to the Yemen crisis is urgent is that there are organizations like al-Qaida that profit from ... an ongoing war and the chaos that has ensued, that you see in southern Yemen," Rycroft said.
Associated Press writer Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.