SANAA (Reuters) - Islamist militants raised their flag over the Yemeni town of Radda and pledged allegiance to al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri, residents said Monday, shortly after seizing the area a couple of hours' drive from the capital Sanaa.
The move is likely to raise concern in neighboring Saudi Arabia, the world's No. 1 oil exporter, and the United States about a spread of al Qaeda's presence in Yemen next to important oil and cargo shipping lanes in the Red Sea.
Washington and Riyadh are pushing for implementation of a deal signed in November under which Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh formally handed power to his deputy to defuse unrest and restore order in the impoverished country.
Radda residents said the militants, who stormed the town of some 60,000 people overnight Saturday, had killed two soldiers, seized the local prison and five police vehicles and were besieging government buildings.
"Al Qaeda has raised its flag over the citadel," one resident told Reuters by telephone. "Its members have spread out across the town's neighborhoods after pledging allegiance to Ayman al-Zawahri during evening prayers (on Sunday)."
(Reporting by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Mark Heinrich)