Yemeni government forces clashed Sunday with militant groups for control over the strategic Port of Aden in the southern city with the same name, Yemeni, government officials said.
The officials say the militants — who are using the port to run lucrative smuggling operations — have refused to hand over the port to the government. They accuse the militants of receiving support from al-Qaida.
A drive-by shooting on Thursday in Aden killed Ahmed al-Idrisi, a top pro-government militia leader, and five of his companions, just hours after he reluctantly agreed to hand over control of the city’s port to government troops.
Security officials claimed that al-Idrisi publicly backed the government but maintained secret deals with extremists and anti-government forces.
Residents in a neighborhood near the port described seeing militiamen deploy in the area and hearing clashes between the militia fighters and government forces.
Militants believed to be from al-Qaida killed a high-ranking military officer and injured four of his bodyguards while they were on their way to the port, security officials said.
The officials said heavy clashes are taking place at the port’s main gate.
Yemen has been embroiled in fighting that is pitting the country’s internationally recognized government based in Aden and a U.S-backed Saudi-led coalition against Shiite rebels known as Houthis, who are allied with a former president.
Al-Qaida and a local Islamic State affiliate have been able to take advantage of the discord, expanding their reach in the chaos of Yemen’s larger conflict. The local al-Qaida branch has seized territory in Yemen’s south and east, and has a growing presence in Aden.
President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi appointed Aidarous al-Zubaidi as the new Aden governor last month after a Dec. 6 bomb claimed by a local Islamic State affiliate killed a former Aden governor.
The new governor’s plan targets recapturing police stations and other state buildings currently controlled by armed groups, according to a security official.
All officials and residents spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to reporters or feared reprisals.