Militants began on Saturday leaving their south Yemen bastion of Azzan as the government warned local tribes against harboring militants escaping a military campaign, witnesses said.
Militants from the al-Qaeda-linked Ansar al-Shariah (partisans of Shariah) “have started to leave in what seems to be a redeployment,” said a witness from Azzan, a militant stronghold in the southeastern province of Shabwa.
Many militants had escaped to Azzan after they pulled out from their strongholds of Jaar, Zinjibar and Shuqra last week in the province of Abyan as the army intensified a five-week all-out offensive aimed to root out the network.
A tribal chief said that Yemeni President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi sent a stern message to the tribes of Azzan and its surroundings to “cooperate with the army in the campaign against al-Qaeda and not to harbor or hide militants.”
Witnesses in Azzan said that a pamphlet attributed to the militants said that the gunmen “were negotiating to surrender Azzan peacefully.”
The pamphlet also claimed that militants were “abandoning the effort to establish Islamic emirates,” just as they did in some southern Yemen towns, and that they were quitting the country for jihad abroad.
“Ansar al-Shariah are preparing to leave Yemen, following the will of [late al-Qaeda founder] sheikh Osama bin Laden to attack the interests of the Americans, crusaders and those who cooperate with them,” the pamphlet said, according to witnesses.
The US hailed Yemen on Saturday for recapturing militant bastions in the south.