A drone air strike blasted two cars carrying suspected Al-Qaeda gunmen in the southern Yemeni province of Shabwa on Thursday, killing five of them, a tribal chief and witnesses said.
“Five militants belonging to Ansar Al-Sharia (Partisans of Islamic Law) were killed in a drone strike” in Shabwa, said Abdulmajid al-Awlaqi, a local tribal chief.
Awlaqi said “among those killed were two from our tribe,” identifying them as Saad bin Ateq — emir of the southern town of Azzan which was an Al-Qaeda stronghold until the army recaptured it in June, and Musaed al-Hadathi.
An Egyptian was also among those killed.
A medical source told AFP that two wounded people were brought to the hospital, “one of them Yemeni and the second Egyptian” without giving further details.
Witnesses said the drone fired four missiles at the two cars as they travelled through the town of Saeed in Shabwa, the ancestral homeland of Anwar al-Awlaqi, the US-born Islamic cleric and Al-Qaeda leader who was killed in a suspected US drone strike in September last year.
“The two cars are still burning and we couldn’t get close to them because the drones are still hovering in the area,” said a local resident.
Awlaqi said gunmen suspected to have links with Al-Qaeda had earlier arrived in four vehicles and “set up a checkpoint on the road linking Saeed and Ataq,” Shabwa’s provincial capital.
He warned that “these raids only widen the gap between the people and the government and only have negative effects.”
The United States is the only country that has drones in the region and in recent months has carried out strikes on Al-Qaeda targets in the south and east of the country.
During a visit to the United States last month, Yemeni President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi acknowledged that drone strikes in his country take place with his approval.
“Every operation, before taking place, they take permission from the president,” Hadi told the Washington Post in an interview published on September 29.
Hadi also spoke of a joint operations centre near Sanaa “that serves as an intelligence nerve center for operations” against Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
“You go to the operations centre and see operations taking place step by step,” Hadi said.
A security official, meanwhile, told AFP that “two Al-Qaeda militants coming from Abyan province were arrested at Al-Alam checkpoint,” east of the main southern city of Aden, on Thursday.
Two others were arrested on Wednesday, he said.
Another security official said that two soldiers were wounded when “unknown gunmen” attacked a local government building in Aden’s Mualla district late on Wednesday using homemade bombs.
Al-Qaeda took advantage of the weakness of Yemen’s central government in mass protests last year against now ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh, seizing large swathes of territory across the south.
But after a month-long government offensive that ended in June, most have fled to the more lawless desert regions of the east.
Although weakened, the militants continue to launch hit-and-run attacks on government and civilian targets throughout Yemen.