Monday's bloodbath underlined a shift in tactics by the jihadists who are busy trying to transform themselves from a fringe group of militants into a fully-fledged domestic insurgency. "A year ago they [al-Qaeda] were numbered in the dozens, armed with light weapons and scattered here and there," Jamal Benomar, the United Nations envoy to Yemen, told TIME in Sana'a last week. "Now they are in their thousands with tanks and heavy weapons. For the first time in history al-Qaeda controls territory."
After pushing out army units and setting up de facto administrations — mini-Islamic fiefdoms — in the south, AQAP, a group the Pentagon claims are the most deadly in the Middle East, are turning their attention to more ambitious pursuits. From the Red Sea coastal plains of Hodeidah to the craggy valleys of the Hadhromout, AQAP have started dispatching teams to assassinate officials, blow up oil pipelines and kidnap foreigners as a means of financing their insurgency. A Swiss woman, one of two foreign aid workers seized from her car near Hodeidah last month — hundreds of miles from al-Qaeda's southern lairs — is now being held in Shabwa province in the south by AQAP fighters who are demanding $60 million for her release. Last week the Bulgarian ambassador's SUV was sprayed with bullets by kidnappers he eluded in the capital.
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