Militants linked to the al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) have reportedly captured a key military base in southern Yemen, amid escalating violence in the country.
In a statement posted on its Twitter account, the Ansar al-Sharia group confirmed that its fighters seized the Yemeni Army’s 19th Infantry Brigade Base located in the Bihan region of Shabwa province.
The group also posted images of its members in captured armoured vehicles, although authenticity could not be verified.
The militants set off a bomb to enter the base after learning that the army was preparing to hand it over to the Houthis, who overthrew the government last week following months of clashes, The Washington Post reported.
Shabwa province Special Forces operations chief colonel Adel Ali Hadi said the assault killed six soldiers and wounded three, and prompted the military to attempt an air strike on the base, which failed.
Ali Hadi said: "They attacked using different kinds of weapons, including suicide bombs, artillery, bazookas and medium-size weapons."
Sheikh al-Fatimi, a tribal leader, told The Washington Post that a large number of soldiers surrendered to the militants after the attack, with several of them, including the brigade commander brigadier general Hamid al-Sowmeli, later released.
The assault, which also killed an undisclosed number of AQAP militants, comes after the US, France and the UK closed their embassies in the capital city Sana’a and evacuated staff because of the deteriorating security situation in the country.
In addition, the US Central Intelligence Agency reportedly scaled back its presence in the country.
Undisclosed US officials were quoted by Stars and Stripes as saying that the agency has evacuated dozens of operatives, analysts and other staffers as part of a broader withdrawal of nearly 200 US workers who were based at the embassy in Sana’a.
Meanwhile, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has urged the international community to help Yemen prevent an escalation of violence and relaunch its political process.
He said: "Let me be clear: Yemen is collapsing before our eyes. We cannot stand by and watch."