Suspected al Qaeda militants stormed and eventually took over a military base in Yemen Friday. The base, in the southeastern port city of Mukalla, is now almost entirely under the group’s control, according to Agence France-Presse. The militants also raided local banks, broke into government buildings and set a broadcasting station on fire, the wire service reported.
During the raid, the group killed at least five soldiers and looted an ammunition store, Reuters reported, citing residents and local officials.
Al Qaeda “took the headquarters of the 2nd Military Region in the afternoon without resistance," an official said, according to AFP. The attack followed the extremist group’s storming of a prison in the city on Thursday, in which they freed hundreds of inmates.
While the identity of most of the prisoners was not clear, initial reports suggested that the escaped prisoners included well-known jihadists. One of the inmates freed following the break-in was reportedly identified by local officials as al Qaeda leader Khalid Batarfi. Batarfi is among al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula's top regional commanders, known for playing a leadership role in a 2011-2012 battle with government troops during which extremists seized large parts of the south and east. He had served more than four years jail time.
The fighting and unrest in southern Yemen have continued despite reports that Houthi forces reportedly pulled back from positions in central Aden on Thursday following airstrikes by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition. The rebels had entered Aden's Khor Maksar district using tanks and armored vehicles a day before, according to the Telegraph.
Mukalla is a main seaport town in Yemen’s coastal region, about 300 miles east of the city of Aden, which was largely taken by Houthi rebels on Thursday, despite a weeklong Saudi military offensive against them there. Mukalla has been a pivotal location for Shiite Houthi fighters in their battles with fighters loyal to Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.