Al Qaeda militants have captured the two major southern Yemeni towns of Zinjibar and Jaar.
Jaar and Zinjibar are both the capital of Abyan province, about 50 km (30 miles) east of the main port city of Aden.
Residents said the Al Qaeda militants launched a surprise rampage on the towns, after which heavy clashes took place between the militants and local fighters for hours. Al Qaeda militants then set up checkpoints at the entries to the towns and announced over loudspeakers after dawn prayers that these towns are now under their control.
By the time Al Qaeda took the towns in 2011, the Arab spring was in blossom in Yemen and eventually led to the ousting of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh after which the militants took advantage of Yemeni authorities neglecting the area. The Yemeni Army drove Al Qaeda out of the towns one year later.
"The entrance of Al Qaeda this time happened in the absence of any state institutions, which Al Qaeda exploited," said Zinjibar resident Fadl Mohammed Mubarak.
Abdullatif al-Sayed, the head of the Yemeni Popular Committee fighters in Abyan Province, said that his forces tried to repel the attacks on Wednesday and that he had been informing officials that Al Qaeda had been planning an imminent attack, but to no avail.
Sources close to the Committee said at least seven of their fighters had been killed in the clashes with Al Qaeda.
The Saudi-led coalition retook the port city of Aden in July, but residents have complained the city remained a ghost town after violent clashes took place.
No rebuilding has taken place in the city in five months and it has been sliding further into chaos with masked gunmen appearing on its streets.
Yemen is suffering from an 8 month long war which started in March 2015 when Yemeni President Abd Rabu Mansour Hadi called on neighbouring Saudi Arabia to "save Yemen" from Houthi rebels.
Iranian backed Houthis have been battling with the Saudi-led coalition launching air strikes in the country, in which the UAE and several Arab countries are playing a major role. And as a result of Houthi aggression, Yemeni president Abed Rabbu Mansour Hadi had to temporarily move to the Saudi capital Riyadh.
War in the country has triggered an unprecedented humanitarian crisis in Yemen. The UN has declared the situation in Yemen to be a level-three humanitarian emergency, the highest on its scale, after about 80 percent of the country’s population fell into dire need of humanitarian aid.