Al Qaeda fighters retook on Wednesday two southern Yemeni towns they had briefly occupied four years ago, foreign media reports.
The militants launched a surprise attack on Zinjibar and Jaar and overcame local forces, then set up checkpoints at the entries to the towns and announced their takeover over loudspeakers after dawn prayers.
The capture of the towns highlights how al Qaeda has taken advantage of the collapse of central authority in Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition has been embroiled in an eight-month war against Shi'ite Houthis. The Houthis captured the capital, Sanaa, and large parts of the country over the past year.
Jaar and Zinjibar, the capital of Abyan province, are about 50 km (30 miles) east of the main port city of Aden. They had fallen previously to militants from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in 2011, who declared them as Islamic emirates.
At the time, the militants were emboldened by waning government control during Arab Spring protests, which eventually ousted former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The Yemeni army drove the militants out just over a year later.