More al-Qaeda militants killed in Yemen

Three more suspected al-Qaeda militants have been killed in a drone strike in southern Yemen, local officials said.

Yemeni soldiers check vehicles passing through Sanaa yesterday as security is tightened in the country. Picture: AFP/Getty

The men were travelling in a car in Shabwa province early yesterday when it was hit by a missile and destroyed.

Witnesses described seeing a helicopter arrive soon after the strike to retrieve the bodies, suggesting one might have been a senior militant.

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More than 55 militants are now believed to have been killed in a series of drone strikes over the past three days.

On Sunday, drones fired missiles at training camps run by the Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) group in the remote, mountainous area of Wadi Ghadina, in the neighbouring province of Abyan, killing at least 30 people.

A day earlier, a drone strike on a lorry in the central province of Bayda killed ten suspected militants and three civilians.

Officials said intelligence had suggested that AQAP planned to attack military and civilian sites in the city of Bayda.

The defence ministry did not specify the nature of the air strikes, but in both cases local sources said unmanned drone aircraft had been seen in the target areas beforehand.

The United States has ­acknowledged using drone strikes to target AQAP in Yemen, but would not comment.

Local tribal sources said about 30 bodies had been transferred from the sites of the latest attacks to nearby towns.

They said at least three separate strikes had taken place after dawn prayers, all targeting al-Qaeda camps.

One official said the militants targeted were among the “leading and dangerous” elements of al-Qaeda, and that they were of several different nationalities.

Witnesses said they had seen al-Qaeda militants dragging dead bodies and some wounded people out of the area.

US drone attacks have killed several suspected AQAP figures, including Anwar al-Awlaki, a US-born Islamist cleric accused of links to plots to bomb a ­Detroit-bound airliner in 2009 and US cargo planes in 2010.

Saudi Arabia officials closely monitor the AQAP, since the branch was founded by citizens of both Yemen and Saudi and has sworn to bring down the ­latter’s ruling al-Saud family.

An online video has been circulating with AQAP leader Nasser al-Wuhaishi addressing a large gathering of fighters in an undisclosed mountainous region of Yemen and vowing to attack the US.

In it he says: “O brothers, the Crusader enemy is still shuffling his papers, so we must remember that we are always fighting the biggest enemy, the leaders of disbelief, and we have to overthrow those leaders, we have to remove the Cross, and the carrier of the Cross is America.”

On Sunday, Michael McCaul, chairman of the US House of Representatives’ Committee on Homeland Security, said AQAP posed “probably the greatest ­external threat” to the US.

He added: “I think the fact the administration now is going ­aggressively against these terrorists… is a very positive sign.”