"There are dozens of Saudi and Egyptian al-Qaeda militants who came to the province," said Shabwa's governor, Ali Hasan al-Ahmadi.This is both an opportunity and a threat. It means that the tenuous control that the Yemeni government has over the country is even more precarious, but it also means that closer scrutiny of the hinterlands by the US, Saudis and Yemeni security could put a serious dent into al Qaeda activities.
He told the al-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper the militants had joined homegrown Yemeni radicals both from Shabwa and other regions of the country.
The province, in the south-east of the country, was one of the targets of a series of air raids against al-Qaeda targets conducted by the Yemeni authorities with American military support shortly before Christmas.
Among those targeted was Anwar al-Awlaki, the Yemeni-American cleric who has given lectures in London and is believed to have inspired both the army psychiatrist who went on a shooting rampage in Fort Hood, Texas, and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who attempted to detonate a bomb in his underpants over Detroit on Christmas Day.
Awlaki is thought to have a house in Shabwa, though his family, which is local to the area, have said he survived the attack.
Gordon Brown has called an international conference in London later this month to discuss how to deal with Yemen's well-publicised security problems.
Abdulmutallab admits being trained by al-Qaeda in Yemen, and is said by the authorities to have been in Shabwa.
They deny claims that large-scale American military intervention will be needed for it to re-establish authority over the country, which is torn by a civil war with Shia rebels in the north, a secessionist movement in the south and an active al-Qaeda network.
But the names of al-Qaeda members who have openly advertised their presence in the country, and who include several former inmates of the Guantanamo Bay internment camp, show its appeal as a new base as the Americans step up their campaign in Afghanistan and the Pakistan border regions.
In a sign of some desperation, President Ali Abdullah Saleh at the weekend called on al-Qaeda members to lay down their arms and enter into negotiation with his government.
The problems are familiar - failed states and governments that have turned a blind eye at best to co-opting and working in concert with al Qaeda at worst - pose a threat to all those around them.