Members of al Qaeda's Nusra Front gesture as they drive in a convoy touring villages in Yemen (Reuters)
Al-Qaeda in Yemen threatened Wednesday to target the homes of officers and soldiers who took part in a government offensive that drove Islamist militants out of key areas.
But militants in Zinjibar appear to have agreed to leave the Abyan provincial capital following tribal mediation to spare the city destruction, said the region's security chief Colonel Nasser Hadi.
Government troops backed by air and ground support from a Saudi-led coalition launched last month a widespread operation against militants in south and southeastern Yemen.
"We warn all military leaders and soldiers who participated in the campaign that their houses are now legitimate targets for us," said an online statement issued by the Abyan branch of Ansar al-Sharia, another name used by Al-Qaeda in Yemen.
"We advise their wives and children to leave their houses because they (the houses) will be our next target," the statement said.
Al-Qaeda fighters had remained in Zinjibar after government forces advanced towards the city in late April. Residents took to the streets demanding the militants leave to spare the city any fighting.
Abyan's security chief said Wednesday that Al-Qaeda militants demanded a "safe exit" from the city and nearby Jaar town, adding the militants "promised to clear the mines and explosives they planted on the edges" of Zinjibar.
He said a tribal dignitary led mediation with the militants to "spare the city destruction and war."
Witnesses said however that Al-Qaeda fighters were still visible in Zinjibar and Jaar.
The militants last month fled the key southeastern city of Mukalla, the capital of Hadramawt province, and other coastal areas, due to the government offensive.
Earlier in April, government troops pushed Al-Qaeda fighters out of Huta, the capital of Lahj province.
Yemen-based Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is regarded by Washington as the network's most dangerous branch, and AQAP militants have come under repeated US air and drone strikes.
The Saudi-led coalition intervened in Yemen in March 2015 in support of President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi against Shia Houthi rebels who had seized the capital Sanaa and other areas.
But it has recently turned its firepower against militants impeding the government's bid to firm up its grip on southern areas recaptured from the rebels.
*This story was edited by Ahram Online