Middle East

Drone strike on al-Qaeda 'kills 13' in southern Yemen


At least 13 people have been killed in air strikes on militants from al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in southern Yemen, residents and officials say.

One tribal leader said at least four of the dead were local al-Qaeda leaders, the Reuters news agency reports.

They were reportedly attacked by a drone in Abyan province.

Islamists began taking control of parts of Abyan last year. Security forces have tried unsuccessfully to push them out and suffered heavy losses.

The details of what happened are not clear, but some reports suggest a convoy of two cars was struck east of Lawdar.

However, tribal leaders told the AFP news agency that a control post and a school hosting a midnight meeting of local al-Qaeda chiefs and fighters were targeted in four overnight raids.

Abdul Munim al-Fathani, who was reportedly wanted by the US for alleged links to the attacks on the USS Cole in 2000 and a French oil tanker in 2002, was among the dead, they said.

"We think they were carried out by American planes," one tribal source told AFP, on condition of anonymity and without elaborating.

Southern stronghold

An al-Qaeda spokesman told Reuters that there had been a strike, but said only three of its members were killed and two were wounded.

There was no immediate comment from the US authorities.

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Media captionIs Yemen becoming a failed state?

The US and CIA conducts drone attacks on suspected militants in southern Yemen, but officials rarely discuss the programme. In September last year, US officials said a radical American cleric of Yemeni descent, Anwar al-Awlaki, had been killed in a US air strike.

Many Yemenis are against the strikes, which they say regularly kill civilians. In late 2009, more than 40 died in an air strike which the US said targeted al-Qaeda.

There has been concern that al-Qaeda-linked militants have strengthened their position in southern and eastern parts of Yemen as protests and unrest shook the country last year.

In November, President Ali Abdullah Saleh - who ruled for more than three decades - bowed to pressure to hand over power to his deputy, after months of opposition to his rule.

Mr Saleh is now in the US for medical treatment after sustaining injuries in a bombing at the presidential palace in the capital, Sanaa, in June.

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