ADEN, Yemen - Fighters from the al Qaeda affiliated Ansar al-Sharia militant group have taken control of an army base in southern Yemen and are holding soldiers prisoner, the group said on its Twitter account on Thursday.
Yemen is edging closer towards civil war as the Houthis, an Iranian-backed Shi'ite Muslim militia from the north, consolidate their grip on power after seizing the capital by force and sidelining the central government.
There was no comment from the government or the military on Ansar al-Sharia seizing the army base. Residents and local news sites reported that the base in the southern province of Shabwa, housing a brigade of 1,200-2,000 soldiers, fell in heavy clashes lasting several hours.
Citing growing insecurity following the Houthi takeover, the United States, Britain and France closed their embassies in the capital Sanaa this week, further pushing Yemen towards international isolation.
Meanwhile the Houthis continued to push into south Yemen where tribes have vowed to fight them. The south is also where Washington has been waging its drone war on Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, an aggressive branch of the global network.
The group said on its Twitter account that the attack on the base near the town of Beyhan began with a dawn suicide car bombing by the entrance, after which the militants managed to take control of three guard towers and a tank. "By approximately eight o'clock in the morning, the mujahideen had imprisoned most of the soldiers inside (the base)," the group said.
Shabwa is a stronghold of al Qaeda and like-minded militants. Ansar al-Sharia in previous years took advantage of Yemen's political chaos and unrest to seize entire districts and towns before being pushed back by the army.