TAEZ - Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula on Thursday outlawed the mild narcotic qat widely consumed throughout Yemen, in a city under its control, a local official said.
Qat is an evergreen shrub native to the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa, and chewing its leaves and shoots as a stimulant dates back centuries.
Al-Qaeda militants seized a large quantity of the plant that traders had hoped to sell in Mukalla in south east Yemen, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
On Wednesday, the group distributed leaflets in the coastal city saying that the sale and consumption of Qat would be banned from Thursday.
The mild narcotic qat, which has a stimulant effect similar to drinking numerous cups of strong coffee, is part of the social fabric of Yemen.
AQAP has exploited months of fighting in Yemen between Iran-backed rebels and the beleaguered Saudi-backed government to take advantage of the growing chaos and seize Mukalla, a city of more than 200,000.
The United States considers AQAP to be the extremist group's deadliest global franchise and regularly targets its militants with armed drone strikes on Yemeni territory.