The Yemeni army entered the southern city of Shuqra on Friday after al-Qaeda militants pulled out, the third bastion of the extremist group to fall in the south of Yemen in one week, a local official said.
“The army has entered Shuqra after al-Qaeda fighters fled towards Azzan,” some 110 kilometers (70 miles) northeast of the coastal city, said the official asking not to be identified.
Shuqra was the last major stronghold of al-Qaeda in Abyan province to fall to government forces, which launched an all-out offensive last month that had already resulted in the recapture of the towns of Jaar and Zinjibar.
Earlier on Thursday, a local Yemeni official and residents said Islamist militants were seen fleeing from the advancing Yemeni army.
Thousands of soldiers backed by tanks and war planes launched an offensive last month and were joined by local tribesmen opposed to the militants.
The United States has provided training and other support, including drone strikes, concerned its Islamist foes have gained a new foothold in the Middle East.
Their advance has fuelled fears about al Qaeda’s presence in a country next to Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter, and close to shipping lanes.
In Sana’a, the Yemeni Interior Ministry warned that Islamist militants could resort to attacks following its defeat in southern Yemen and said it was beefing up security in the capital and other cities against such attacks.
“Security forces have warned that al-Qaeda, in light of the humiliating defeat, could resort to terrorist operations to take revenge for the great victory achieved by the armed forces in destroying the dens of terror in Jaar and Zinjibar,” it said in a statement.
Ansar al-Sharia had earlier said it would seek to spread the war across Yemen after it was forced to abandon the towns, according to the SITE Intelligence Group which monitors militant websites.