April 2, 2015 7:47 AM EDT The powerful al-Qaeda affiliate in Yemen stormed a southern port city and freed hundreds of prisoners as it took advantage of mounting turmoil in the country.
The New York
Times reports that al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) launched an offensive early Thursday against the city of al-Mukalla, targeting the security headquarters, government buildings and the central prison. Witnesses reported seeing hundreds of inmates fleeing, according to the Times. Yemen’s Tumultuous History in 12 Pictures In 1962, a coup ousted the monarchy ruling North Yemen and spawned a devastating civil war between the newly established Yemen Arab Republic and royalist forces. The conflict, which drew Egypt in on the side of the republicans against the Saudi-backed royalists, lasted through the end of the decade Gery Gerard—Paris Match/Getty Images As conflict raged in the north, leftist groups in the south began to push for independence from Britain, which had controlled the port city of Aden and its surroundings since the mid-19th century. A grenade attack on British officers in December 1963 marked the beginning of an insurgency against the British known as the Aden Emergency Terry Fincher—Getty Images Under siege from pro-independence groups, the British agreed to a transfer of power and withdrew in 1967, paving the way for the communist-run People’s Republic of South Yemen AP North and South Yemen finally overcame internal turmoil and occasional border clashes to agree on a unity deal in 1989. The merger the following year established the Republic of Yemen under the North’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh (right), who would remain in power until 2012 . Thomas Hartwell—The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images Peace between both sides would not hold. In 1993, Vice President al-Bayd left Sana’a for Aden in the south, and by the following year the two sides’ armed forces, which had yet to be merged, were at war. The North eventually defeated southern forces, restoring calm after months of violence that left thousands dead Laurent Van Der Stockt—Getty Images A suicide bomb attack on the USS Cole in Aden, Yemen killed 17 U.S. sailors on Oct. 12, 2000, and was claimed by Al-Qaeda. Despite President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s pledge to support America's fight on terrorism, the group would eventually gain a strong foothold in the country. Today, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is one of the terror network's most powerful affiliates and controls swathes of territory in southern Yemen U.S. Navy—Getty Images Large-scale anti-government protests broke out in Jan. 2011 across the country in the wake of the ouster of Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, eventually prompting President Ali Abdullah Saleh to declare that he would not run for reelection in 2013 Reuters Snowballing demonstrations turned deadly on March 18, 2011 when unidentified gunmen opened fire on protesters, killing roughly 50 people. President Ali Abdullah Saleh, denying the attackers were government forces, declared a state of emergency, heralding a new, more violent phase in the protests that devolved at times into tribal clashes Muhammed Muheisen—AP An explosion at the presidential palace on June 3, 2011, badly burned President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who left for Saudi Arabia for treatment but, to the dismay of opposition activists, returned to Sana'a in September Muhammed Muheisen—AP The embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh resigned on Feb. 27, 2012, after agreeing to an internationally-brokered deal to transition power to his deputy Abd-Rabbo Mansour Hadi Hani Mohammed—AP The Houthis, an insurgency comprising members of the Shi’ite Zaidi minority, took control of Sana'a on Sept. 21, 2014, after years of clashes with government forces in the north. The group, which allowed President Abd-Rabbo Mansour Hadi to remain at his post, gained wider traction as self-proclaimed reformers, capitalizing on dissatisfaction with the poor economic and security situations under Hadi’s U.S.-backed government Mohammed Hamoud—Anadolu Agency/Getty Images President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi submitted his resignation on Jan. 22 after negotiations on a power-sharing agreement with the Houthis appeared to fall through, leaving the fate of the country unclear EPA
Yemen has descended into civil war since the rebel Houthis from the north seized the capital, Sana’a, last fall and ousted President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi earlier this year. Clashes between the advancing Houthis and forces loyal to Hadi intensified last month and prompted neighboring Saudi Arabia to launch airstrikes to push back the predominantly Shi’ite Houthis, who are perceived to have
support from Saudi rival Iran.
The city of al-Mukalla had been spared the fighting, but onlookers have long raised concerns that the unrest could fuel AQAP’s
growth in strength and stature, especially as the Sunni extremist group positions itself as a leading opposition force to the Houthis.
] New York Times More Must-Reads From TIME Meet the 2024 Women of the Year Greta Gerwig's Next Big Swing East Palestine, One Year After Train Derailment In the Belly of MrBeast The Closers: 18 People Working to End the Racial Wealth Gap How Long Should You Isolate With COVID-19? The Best Romantic Comedies to Watch on Netflix Want Weekly Recs on What to Watch, Read, and More? Sign Up for Worth Your Time