Yemen air strike kills three al-Qaeda chiefs, defense ministry says


An air strike in southern Yemen has killed at least three suspected al-Qaeda militants, the defense ministry said in a statement on Sunday.

A security official said the raid late on Saturday was conducted by a US drone against a moving vehicle carrying Al-Qaeda operatives in the province of Bayda, some 210 kilometers (130 miles) southeast of the capital Sana’a.

The ministry, however, maintained the Yemeni government’s routine insistence that only its aircraft carry out such operations on its soil.

The official statement released on the ministry’s website said that the three militants killed were “local al-Qaeda leaders.”

The United States has never formally acknowledged the use of drones against al-Qaeda in Yemen, considered by Washington to be the most active and deadly branch of the global terror network and a major focus of its “war on terror.”

Also on Saturday, in a separate town in Bayda province, suspected al-Qaeda gunmen kidnapped a Yemeni officer and two of his aides, a security official told AFP on condition of anonymity. He gave no further details.

Al-Qaeda has exploited a decline in central government control that accompanied Arab Spring-inspired protests that eventually forced president Ali Abdullah Saleh to cede power.

Since May last year, the extremist group’s Yemen branch, known as the Partisans of Sharia (Islamic law), has seized several towns in the lawless south and east, including Zinjibar, capital of the southern Abyan province.

Last week at least 222 people, including 183 militants, were killed in five days of clashes around the strategic southern town of Loder that Al-Qaeda is trying to seize.