Yemen air strikes kill Al Qaeda-linked militants


An image taken on January 21, 2012, shows militants loyal to Jalal al-Blaidy, leader of the Ansar al-Sharia, gathered in a valley in the vicinity of Zinjibar, the provincial capital of Abyan.



At least 17 Al Qaeda-linked militants, including a number of tribal leaders, have been killed by air strikes in southern Yemen, reports say.

Targets close to the city of Bayda, around 130 kilometers south of the capital Sanaa, were struck by Yemeni planes late Friday, according to officials quoted by the BBC, although local residents told reporters that US warplanes had been involved.

Local officials told the Agence France Presse that 27 militants had been killed and 55 others were wounded. A number of vehicles and cars used by Al Qaeda were also reportedly destroyed in the attack.

Residents in Bayda told Reuters the strikes had targeted bases used by Ansar al-Sharia (Partisans of Islamic Law) militants, who have been fighting Yemeni security forces since mid-2011.

The group are reportedly inspired by and maintain ties with Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which has bases in southern Yemen. While the precise nature of the relationship between the two groups is unclear, Sanaa says they are one and the same.

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There are concerns that militants linked to AQAP have exploited a security vacuum in Yemen’s southern and eastern regions following months of protests against former President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

On Thursday AQAP issued a statement threatening to kill the more than 70 Yemeni troops it holds hostage if the government refuses to release AQAP members currently in jail. Three of the hostages have already been executed.

On Friday the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, warned that Yemen is facing a new wave of internal displacement as tens of thousands flee tribal clashes in the north and fighting between militants and the government in the south, The Guardian reports.

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