At least six suspected al Qaeda militants in Yemen’s southeastern province of Maareb are dead after a US drone strike, officials said – the sixth such strike in less than two weeks.
Photo: A Yemeni soldier mans a checkpoint on a street leading to the US embassy compound in Sanaa
The strike follows warnings of potential attacks by militants that prompted Washington to shut embassies across the Middle East, and the United States and Britain to evacuate staff.
It also follows Yemen’s announcement on Wednesday that it had foiled a plot by al-Qaeda to seize two major oil and gas export terminals and a provincial capital in the east of the country.
Witnesses and local officials in Maareb, a mostly desert region where militants have taken refuge, said the drone fired at two vehicles suspected of carrying al-Qaeda militants at dawn, killing six people. Residents said they saw the two vehicles rise in flames and the drones circled the air for a while after the attack.
At least 20 suspected militants have been killed since 28 July, when a drone strike killed at least four members of Ansar al-Sharia, a local militant group affiliated to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) – one of the most active branches of the network founded by Osama bin Laden.
US sources told Reuters that intercepted communication between al-Qaeda leader, Ayman al-Zawahri (bin Laden’s successor) and the Yemen-based wing was one part of the intelligence behind the alert last week that prompted the closure of the embassies
Yemen is one of the poorest Arab countries and it is one of handful of countries where Washington acknowledges targeting militants with strikes by drone aircraft, although it does not comment publicly on the practice. The US also supports Yemeni forces with funds and logistical support.
Yemeni authorities issued a statement early on Tuesday listing the 25 “most wanted terrorists” it said were planning to carry out attacks in the country during the Muslim Eid al-Fitr holiday which starts Thursday. They also offered a bounty of five million Yemeni riyals ($23,000) for information leading to their capture.
Last year, a 11 September attack killed the US ambassador to Libya and three other Americans in Benghazi.