Hundreds protest against Qaeda control of Yemen city

Aden (AFP) - Hundreds of residents have protested against Al-Qaeda controlling Mukalla, the capital of southeast Yemen's Hadramawt province, a month after jihadists overran the city, witnesses said on Monday.

"Batarfi out out, Hadramawt wants freedom," they chanted late on Sunday, referring to Khalid Batarfi, a senior Al-Qaeda figure who has reportedly been named the "emir of Mukalla".

Batarfi was among more than 300 prisoners who escaped from a Mukalla jail stormed by militants as Al-Qaeda overran the city last month.

Sunday's protest erupted after militants stormed a mosque following evening prayers and one pointed a gun at the imam and threatened to kill him for criticising Al-Qaeda, a local official told AFP.

"Southerners wake up. Say 'no' to Al-Qaeda and 'no' to Huthis," protesters chanted, also declaring their rejection of the Shiite rebels who have seized the capital and are fighting to expand their territory in the south.

One demonstrator, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the residents of Mukalla were complaining about Al-Qaeda "interference in every aspect of our lives".

The Sunni extremist militants have set up checkpoints across the city and are demanding that residents use their courts which implement a strict interpretation of Islamic sharia law.

Residents also accuse the group of trying to force their own strict imams into mosques across the city.

Mukalla has been largely spared fuel and food shortages that have hit other Yemeni cities affected by fighting between rebels and supporters of President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi.

Hadramawt province is the ancestral homeland of slain Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

The United States considers the Yemen-based Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to be the group's most dangerous branch.

AQAP has exploited the chaos gripping impoverished Yemen to expand its territory in the southeast.