Fighters took Tawahi district, home to a presidential palace and Aden’s main port, and were patrolling the streets, some carrying black banners, the officials said. The militants also took parts of Crater, Aden’s commercial center, and parts of Dar Saad town, just north of Aden, including an army base that they turned into a training camp.
Security officials near the seized base, in Dar Saad’s al-Lohoum district, say it is now training some 200 militants.
Yemeni government spokesman Rajeh Badi, in Saudi Arabia, did not have any immediate comment.
The officials, who hail from the military, security forces and police, spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak to journalists. They said Al-Qaida’s gains came in recent weeks in the wake of fighting in Aden between Shiite rebels, known as Houthis, and pro-government forces.
The Houthis were pushed out of Aden last month. Al-Qaeda took advantage of the security vacuum there after the pro-government forces moved outside the city to challenge the Houthis, as clashes raged between the two sides in other parts of the country.
Al-Qaida also has a presence in Breiqa city, west of Aden, and nearby al-Khadra city, the officials added.
Omar al-Sobeihy, a resident of Dar Saad, said that while al-Qaida fighters are moving freely in the area, “we haven’t felt any harassment from them so far.”
In the Tawahi district, resident Taha Faris described a similar situation.
“They are spread out in Tahawi and we can say they have the area under their control. So far they aren’t harassing people, trying instead to gain support, though I fully realize they are waiting for the right moment to attack and control all of Aden,” Faris said.
Washington considers al-Qaida’s Yemen branch to be the most dangerous offshoot of the terror network.
In Tawahi, al-Qaeda destroyed the main state security building on Saturday with a powerful bomb that was heard around the city, security officials said. The group has been trying to attack the site for several years, they added. Meanwhile, an official with port security said one of their boats was set ablaze by suspected al-Qaida militants.
Yemen’s conflict pits the Iran-allied Houthi rebels and troops loyal to the former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, against an array of forces including southern separatists, local and tribal militias, Sunni Islamic militants as well as troops loyal to President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. The conflict gained international attention when the Houthis took over the capital Sanaa last September, and escalated in March as a Saudi-led coalition started launching airstrikes against Houthi positions.
Al-Qaida, which had only a minor role the war against the Houthis, took advantage of the chaos to recruit hundreds of young men and acquire weapons, according to several officials.
Washington, meanwhile, has kept up its drone attacks targeting al-Qaida militants in Yemen, including one in June in the city of Mukalla that killed the group’s top leader.
Yemeni transport Minister Badr Bassalma told The