SANAA, Yemen (CNN) -- Death sentences were carried out Sunday by al Qaeda members against three people after al Qaeda-run courts convicted them of spying for the Yemeni government, the United States and Saudi Arabia, according to numerous sources and eyewitnesses.
The suspects admitted to spying and being behind the killing of a number of al Qaeda fighters in Yemen, according to the sources.
Two executions took place in the southern Abyan province, while the third was in Azzan, Shabwa province.
A senior security official in Abyan confirmed that the government did not have the ability to help the suspects. "Jaar (in Abyan province) is mostly an al Qaeda-run town where we have little to no influence in what happens inside," said the official who is not authorized to talk to media.
The executions took place in open daylight in front of residents after the death sentences were read aloud.
Militants were stationed on mountain tops near the field ready for defend in the case of an air strike, according to sources and eyewitnesses.
Residents said that militants warned that anyone found guilt of spying against them would face the same fate.
Saleh al-Jameli, one of the three, admitted to passing intelligence information to the Saudis and Americans, which led to the raids of al Qaeda hideouts in Yemen's Mareb province, sources said.
Ansar al-Sharia, a militant group coordinated with al Qaeda in Abyan, has conducted dozens of court cases in the province, in a strong sign of authority.
Residents complain that they are forced to obey orders from the militants.
"They are in control of everything in Abyan. They are our government and we have no choice but to listen if we want to live," said a local in Zinjibar district of Abyan, who wanted to be referred to as Abu Saleh.
Ansar al-Sharia seized control of several towns in Abyan after government forces evacuated a number of its military bases last May.
"We do not feel that we are part of Yemen. We are living a different life and following the laws of the militants," added Abu Saleh.
The executions come as the country is witnessing its first power transfer in more than three decades.
A presidential election is scheduled for February 21. Yemeni Vice President Abdurabu Mansur Hadi has said he is running for president in that election, although powers have already been passed to him from President Ali Abdullah Saleh and he is the only candidate.
Under a plan forged by the Gulf Cooperation Council, Saleh -- who's been in office for 33 years -- will step down after the election and will receive immunity from prosecution.
Executive powers have already been transferred to Hadi. The power transfer deal, signed in November, states that Saleh's deputy will succeed him in power for a term of two years.