Last Updated: Mon May 07, 2012 19:29 pm (KSA) 16:29 pm (GMT)

Al-Qaeda kills 32 Yemeni troops after leader eliminated in air raid

YA pro-government tribesman and army soldiers are at a mountain military position near the southern Yemeni city of Lawdar, where clashes between army forces and al Qaeda-linked militants have taken place for several weeks. (Reuters)
YA pro-government tribesman and army soldiers are at a mountain military position near the southern Yemeni city of Lawdar, where clashes between army forces and al Qaeda-linked militants have taken place for several weeks. (Reuters)

Suspected al-Qaeda gunmen killed at least 32 soldiers in attacks on two army posts in southern Yemen on Monday, a day after a wanted top militant died in an air raid, a military official said.

Jihadists attacked the military posts outside the city of Zinjibar, which they have controlled since May last year, said the official.

The military official told Reuters gunmen attacked Yemeni troops outside the city of Zinjibar, capital of Abyan province, killing at least 32 servicemen. He said they captured a number of soldiers and made off with weapons and ammunition.

At least 40 soldiers were wounded in the attack, the official and medical sources said.

In a similar attack in March, militants killed about 100 troops in Zinjibar after Hadi took office.

The attacks came after Yemeni al-Qaeda leader Fahd al-Quso, who was wanted in connection with the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole, was killed in an air strike in eastern Yemen on Sunday.

Al-Qaeda, which has strongholds in southern and eastern Yemen, confirmed Quso’s slaying in an SMS text message sent to reporters that could not be immediately verified.

“Fahd al-Quso, who was wanted by the United States for the attack against the USS Cole, was killed tonight (Sunday) in an American raid on the Rafadh region” in the Shabwa province, tribal chief Abdul Magid bin Farid al-Awlaki told AFP.

The October 2000 attack on the U.S. Navy destroyer, the USS Cole, in Yemen’s port of Aden killed 17 sailors and wounded 40 more.

Quso was killed when two missiles slammed near his home in Rafadh, east of Ataq, the provincial capital of Shabwa province, the tribal chief said, adding that two of the suspect's body guards were also killed in the raid.

A U.S. government official welcomed the death of the “senior terrorist operative,” saying he had been actively planning attacks against the United States and Yemen.

“Fahd al-Quso was a senior terrorist operative of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula who was deeply involved in ongoing terrorist plotting against Yemeni and U.S. interests at the time of his death,” the official said, requesting anonymity to speak about the matter.

“He was also involved in numerous attacks over many years that murdered Americans as well as Yemeni men, women and children.”

Quso’s name figured on an FBI list of most wanted terrorists, along with a reward of up to $5 million for information leading to his arrest.

In its text message, al-Qaeda said: “The martyr Sheikh Fahd al-Quso was martyred, killed in an American raid this afternoon in Rafadh.”

The Yemeni embassy in Washington also confirmed the death of “one of the most wanted terrorists in Yemen.”

Al-Qaeda had claimed responsibility for the attack on the USS Cole, which was carried out when militants riding an explosives-laden skiff blew a 30-by-30-foot (10-by-10-meter) hole in the USS Cole.

The USS Cole was in the port of Aden for a routine fuel stop when it was attacked.

Quso belonged to the powerful al-Awlak tribe of U.S.-Yemeni cleric and terror suspect Anwar al-Awlaki, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Yemen in September.

U.S. intelligence officials believed Awlaki was linked to a U.S. army major charged with shooting dead 13 people in Fort Hood, Texas, and to a Nigerian student accused of trying to blow up a U.S. airliner on December 25, 2009.

He was also believed to be the leader of external operations of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula -- the local al-Qaeda branch in Yemen.

In April, The Washington Post said that the CIA is seeking permission to launch more drone strikes in Yemen, adding that there have been at least eight U.S. raids in Yemen in first four months of this year.

The United States has never formally acknowledged the use of drones against al-Qaeda in Yemen, and the Yemeni government continues to deny that such air strikes take place.

According to the Washington Post, U.S. drones are launched from a secret base in the Arabian Peninsula.

Yemen descended into disorder last year when an uprising against long-serving leader Ali Abdullah Saleh split the armed force into warring factions.

Militants seized chunks of territory in south Yemen during the uprising against Saleh, a staunch U.S. ally. They killed about 100 Yemeni troops in a single attack near one of those areas in March, according to Reuters.

Saleh resigned this year, and the United States wants his successor to unify the armed forces and use them to fight al-Qaeda more robustly.

But the covert use of drones has angered the public in Yemen as it has in other countries such as Pakistan, where Washington uses unmanned aircraft to kill its enemies in secret.

The tactic is seen by many residents as a form of extra-judicial execution that also endangers people not directly targeted and risks boosting support for militants.

A Yemeni official said earlier on Sunday that two Belgian nationals of Arab descent could be deported after being detained last month on suspicion of involvement in militant activities.

Ebrahim Bali and Ezzeddine Tuhairi were detained on April 13 at Sana’a’s airport as they tried to enter the country, he said.

A Belgian Foreign Ministry spokesman confirmed the arrest and said Brussels was seeking consular access to them.

“They were arrested on suspicion of planned terrorist activities in Yemen. We are in a process of negotiation with the Belgian government. We expect them to be deported...within days,” the Yemeni official said.

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