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Yemen army recaptures provincial capital of Abyan

From Hakim Almasmari, For CNN
Yemeni troops patrol the streets after freeing Zinjibar, Abyan province, from al Qaeda suspects.
Yemeni troops patrol the streets after freeing Zinjibar, Abyan province, from al Qaeda suspects.
  • The Yemen army frees a brigade that had been under siege in the Abyan province, government says
  • Militants with al Qaeda ties seized towns in Abyan and besieged the brigade
  • But Yemen troops recapture the towns and reclaim the brigade, the government says

Sanaa, Yemen (CNN) -- Thousands of Yemeni troops freed a brigade that had been under a three-month siege in the Abyan province by militants and insurgents with close ties to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the Interior Ministry reported Saturday.

Government soldiers recaptured Zinjibar, the provincial capital of Abyan, and broke the siege of the 25th Mechanized Brigade south of the city after a nine-week military operation, according to the Yemen Embassy in Washington, D.C.

Eyewitnesses confirmed that hundreds of government troops entered Zinjibar.

The militants with al Qaeda ties had seized towns in Abyan, but most of the territories are now under the control of Yemen army, and special forces will continue to secure Zinjibar and other recaptured towns, the embassy said in a statement. Saudi Arabia and the United States provided logistical support for the operation, the embassy said.

The brigade and its hundreds of troops were under siege since late May.

"We felt it was ready to take over large areas of the province, and reinforcements came in the right time," said a senior security official in Zinjibar, who is not authorized to talk to media.

He added that more than 2,000 troops were involved in the clashes against the militants over the last 36 hours.

"Terrorists are living their last days in Abyan province," he added.

Abyan residents who were evacuated to Aden said they were happy to hear that government forces were gaining ground in the clashes.

"We hope this is the beginning of the end and we can bring our families back to Abyan. We have suffered enough," said Raoof Ali, one of the thousands of Zinjibar residents who fled the city.

President Ali Abdullah Saleh congratulated the defense minister and cited the support from the Saudis and Americans, Yemen's news agency reported

Government forces have been trying to enter Zinjibar since June but with no success.

More than 100,000 Abyan residents were evacuated to neighboring Aden and Lahj provinces, the local al-Saleh charity organization reported.

CNN's Michael Martinez contributed to this report.