JAAR, Yemen - For 15 months, residents of the southern Yemeni town of Jaar lived under the watchful gaze of armed young men who swore allegiance to al-Qaida, woke people at dawn to pray, and chopped off the hands of thieves in the name of Islamic law.

But the relief that they felt when government troops drove al-Qaida's local allies out last week was tempered with worry, as looters ransacked abandoned houses in their wake.

In a town on the frontline of a US-backed war on al Qaeda - whose alleged members the Pentagon targets with drone strikes - some wondered whether a state whose neglect was a main theme of Islamist rhetoric would now manage to govern.

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