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Al-Qaida in Yemen: 'They just control a whole city'

Watch Al Qaeda in Yemen on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.

Al-Qaida and its allies remain entrenched in parts of Yemen despite a stepped-up campaign of drone strikes and a U.S.-backed offensive to remove the Islamist militants from the country, according to a new documentary. 

PBS' Frontline aired 'Al-Qaida in Yemen' on Tuesday night. It showed the militants' black flag flying over Yemeni towns that appeared to be under complete control of Ansar al-Sharia, a local branch of the terror group that formed in 2011.

Al-Qaida minders escorted journalists through the Ansar al-Sharia's strongholds of Jaar and Azzan, showing them poor and war-torn but seemingly functioning towns. 

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"Now we are in a city, it is a natural city, people are living in the city, having the normal life," journalist Ghaith Abdul-Ahad said in Jaar. "Yet at the same time this is al-Qaida. And they just control a whole city."

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The journalists also interviewed refugees who had fled fighting between militants and the army. 

EPA, file

A member of militant group Ansar al-Sharia stands next to an al-Qaida flag at a checkpoint in the southern town of Azzan, Yemen, on March 31.

One woman who left her home with her family because of the clashes, wiped away tears and said: "The army and security forces made it worse instead of protecting us."

Al-Qaida-linked militants seized large swathes of territory in southern Yemen last year as then-President Ali Abdullah Saleh grappled with protesters demanding his overthrow. Saleh quit last November in favor of his deputy, Abd-Rabbu Hadi Mansour. 

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The United States and its Gulf Arab allies have watched with mounting alarm as security deteriorates in Yemen, home to al-Qaida's Arabian Peninsula wing (AQAP), which Washington views as a serious threat. 

"We consider that al-Qaida  presents a very significant challenge," U.S. Ambassador to Yemen Gerald Feierstein told Frontline.

A suicide bomber blew himself up at a military parade rehearsal in Yemen's capital, killing more than 90 soldiers. Msnbc.com's Dara Brown reports.

"For the first time we see al-Qaida trying to hold territory," which is a departure from what the militant group had done in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Horn of Africa, he added.

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American and Yemeni pressure may be having an impact, however. The Yemeni army said on Monday it had made some progress in the fight against the militants, according to the Yemen Times.  The newspaper also said that the military had rejected a ceasefire offer from Ansar al-Sharia. 

Reuters contributed to this report.

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