The leader of the al-Qaida-linked militant group that has seized territory in southern Yemen called on local residents to hold mass rallies against the military until the government withdraws its troops from the area.
Jalal al-Marqashi also told residents of Yemen's troubled Abyan province in a video posted on YouTube late Thursday that his group was working to restore services like water and electricity that have been cut off by months of fighting in Abyan.
Al-Marqashi's group, known as Ansar al-Shariah, has taken advantage of the security vacuum in Yemen since the uprising against autocratic President Ali Abdullah Saleh began last January to step up its operations. The group, which has links to al-Qaida, seized a number of towns in the south last spring, and the Yemeni army has failed to push the militants out despite frequent deadly clashes.
In the video, al-Marqashi, dressed in a black vest and with an assault rifle leaning on a tree behind him, accused the military of destroying local infrastructure to punish the residents because they support the group's efforts to apply strict Islamic law in the area. He also urged the residents to stage demonstrations against the army.
"You are part of the solution, through holding marches and protests against this collaborator state until it withdraws the brigades posted on the city's outskirts that have destroyed your houses," he said, addressing residents.
Fighting between the militants and government forces has forced tens of thousands of people to flee since last spring. Earlier this month, hundreds of them returned to the regional capital of Zinjibar, where al-Marqashi, known as "Abu Hamza" addressed them. His men offered them carbonated drinks and cookies and slaughtered cows for dinner.
Also Friday, tens of thousands of Yemenis in cities across the country staged rallies to call for President Saleh to be tried for his alleged role in deadly crackdowns on protesters. Saleh left Yemen this week for the Gulf sultanate of Oman after passing power to his deputy as part of a plan to end the country's political crisis.
Saleh is expected to travel to the United States for medical treatment. His vice president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, is to be rubber-stamped as the country's new ruler in presidential elections on Feb. 21, in which he is to be the only candidate.