A Yemeni member of al-Qaeda, who was was convicted for his role in the 2000 bombing of a US warship, has been killed along with his colleague in an air strike in the southern province of Shabwa.

Residents and a spokesman for the al-Qaeda-linked Ansar al-Sharia group said that Sunday's attack, suspected to have been carried out by a drone in the Wadi Rafad valley, killed Fahd al-Qasaa and Fahed Salem al-Akdam as they travelled in their car.

Al-Qasaa, who was jailed for the attack on USS Cole in the port of Aden, escaped from prison in 2005. The attack on USS Cole killed 17 US sailors.

A local government official in Shabwa confirmed the attack.

A statement from al-Qaeda said: "Al-Qaeda affirms the martyrdom of the Fahd al-Qasaa in an American attack this afternoon in Rafad."

The plane that fired the missile had been sighted in the sky, residents said.

No one else was killed in the attack and no one else was travelling in the vehicle, they added.

The government website Septemeber 26 said that a third al-Qaeda operative was arrested in Aden along with another man.
Yemen's branch of al-Qaeda, which has plotted abortive overseas attacks from the country, has been a major worry for Washington.

Last September, a Yemeni-US citizen Anwar al-Awlaki was killed in a drone attack that Barack Obama, the US president, described as a "significant milestone".

Awlaki had been linked to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and for plotting abortive attacks on US targets.

Drones controversial

The use of drones has been controversial in Yemen, Afghanistan and Pakistan, where Washington is also fighting al-Qaeda-linked groups.
The United States has never formally acknowledged the use of drones against al-Qaeda in Yemen, and the Yemeni government continues to deny that such air strikes take place.

Washington wants Yemen's new president, who took office after a year of mass protests against his predecessor that split the military into warring factions, to unify the army and rein al-Qaeda operatives.

A group linked to al-Qaeda seized chunks of territory in south Yemen during the uprising against former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, a staunch US ally, and killed about 100 Yemeni troops in a single attack near one of those areas in March. 

A Yemeni official said earlier on Sunday that two Belgian nationals of Arab descent could be deported after being detained last month on suspicion of involvement in militant activities. 

Ebrahim Bali and Ezzeddine Tuhairi were detained on April 13 at Sanaa's airport as they tried to enter the country. 

"They were arrested on suspicion of planned terrorist activities in Yemen. We are in a process of negotiation with the Belgian government. We expect them to be deported...within days," the official said. 

A Belgian foreign ministry spokesman confirmed the two men were being held over suspected involvement in "terrorist" activity, and said Brussels was seeking consular access to them.

Source: Agencies