U.S. drone strikes killed twelve al-Qaeda militants at a gathering of the jihadists outside a town in southern Yemen which is a stronghold of al-Qaeda-linked insurgents fighting government forces for more than a year, residents told Al Arabiya.
“We heard three explosions rock the town at midnight (21:00 GMT),” a resident said, adding that the attack had been carried out by a “U.S. drone.”
“Militants were killed and their bodies were left in pieces,” he said. Government officials could not be immediately reached, AFP reported.
The attack was the latest strike against militants in the coastal Abyan province on the Gulf of Aden who have exploited mass protests against former president Ali Abdullah Saleh’s 33-year rule to seize large swathes of territory in the south.
Yemen’s army, which split into two factions during the uprising that eventually unseated Saleh, has been battling to get the upper hand against the militants.
Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the Yemen-based branch of the militant network, has plotted abortive overseas attacks and is a major concern for Washington, which is waging an assassination campaign against suspected members using drone and missile strikes.
U.S. officials revealed publicly on Monday that they thwarted an AQAP plot to arm a suicide bomber with a non-metallic device, an upgraded version of the “underwear bomb” carried onto a plane on Christmas Day 2009.
Yemen’s fractured state and dysfunctional security apparatus provide al-Qaeda’s franchise in the poor Arab country with a suitable breeding ground for such bomb plots.
Meanwhile, tribal leaders in parts of Yemen where drone attacks aimed at AQAP have killed civilians say the strikes are turning more and more people against the government and the United States.