Abdullah al-Sharafy, Associated Press
Yemeni residents, who fled nearly eight months of fighting between the army and Islamists, return home in Zinjibar, Yemen, Jan. 14, 2012.

SANAA, Yemen — Thousands of displaced Yemenis have returned to a restive area in the country's south that has been under the control of al-Qaida-linked militants since May.

They say the militant group, Ansar al-Shariah, welcomed them Saturday with carbonated drinks and cookies then slaughtered cows to feed them dinner. The group told them it has established an Islamic emirate that will be ruled according to strict Islamic Shariah law.

Security has collapsed across Yemen during 11 months of mass protests calling for the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who is supposed to leave power this month under a U.S.-backed deal.

Islamic militants seized areas in the southern Abyan province in May. Security forces have so far failed to push them out.