Between 12 and 15 suspected militants from Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) have been killed in airstrikes in southern Yemen, according to security and military officials.
Details of the strike are not yet clear. The AP quoted Yemeni officials as saying that a US drone attack hit a school and car in Abyan province in the country’s restive south, in an area between Lawder and Moudia where the militants were hiding.
However, Reuters quoted local residents as stating that the drone attacked militants who were travelling overnight in a two-car convoy.
The drone strike represents one of the biggest US attacks on AQAP to date, according to a local tribal chief quoted by the news agency.
Abdul Munim al-Fathani, reportedly wanted by the US over his alleged involvement in attacks on the USS Cole in 2000 and a French oil tanker in 2002, was killed in the attack, tribal leaders told the AFP.
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A Western official in Washington DC told the AP that there had been a US-supported strike against suspected AQAP chiefs, but could not specify where in Yemen the attack had occurred and said initial indications were that five people had been killed.
Islamists began to secure control of areas in Abyan last year, and have so far withstood Yemeni security forces’ efforts to push them out.
There are concerns that militants linked to AQAP have taken advantage of Yemen’s year-long uprising to entrench and strengthen their positions in the country’s southern and eastern regions.
US officials rarely discuss US and CIA drone attacks in southern Yemen, though last year they announced that Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical American cleric of Yemeni descent, had been killed in a US air strike, GlobalPost reported.
Many Yemenis do not support the strikes, which they say kill and injure civilians indiscriminately. In 2009 more than 40 people died in an attack that the US said had targeted Al Qaeda operatives.
Yesterday US President Barack Obama confirmed that unmanned American drones regularly target suspected Taliban and Al Qaeda militants in Pakistan’s tribal areas, in the first official acknowledgement of the CIA’s covert drone program in the region.
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