By Ayisha Amr
Around midnight on April 2, bombs began falling on the coastal city of Mukalla, the capital of Yemen’s largest province, Hadramawt. Soon after, it became clear that the city was under siege by al Qaeda. Around 200 of the militants were from Mukalla and another 200 drove in from other parts of Yemen in their pickup trucks. After three days of fighting around the army barracks, the city’s commanders surrendered in return for the ability to leave unharmed.
Once in control, the militants freed some 300 prisoners, including three from al Qaeda; one of them was Khaled Batarfi, a top leader. They then headed over to the city’s main bank, stealing more than 24 billion rials ($111 million). Nine billion rials were later destroyed by a U.S. drone strike. After the bank heist, Al Qaeda seized six of the city’s main army and security barracks—two of which are full of large weapons.
“Every official—the governor and the security and military commanders—fled the city,” a Yemeni journalist said. “They vanished and we were left all alone, face to face with al Qaeda.”
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