A drone strike near the southern Yemeni city of Jaar has killed at least seven al-Qaeda suspects, including a local leader, according to local officials.
“A drone, likely American, fired several rockets at a group of al-Qaeda members northwest of Jaar, killing all of them,” one official told the AFP news agency on Thursday.
The United States is the only country that operates drones in the region.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said “several bodies” had been identified, including one belonging to Nader al-Shadadi, al-Qaeda’s leader in Jaar, a city in Abyan province.
According to the official, al-Qaeda fighters have been trying to position themselves near Yemen’s main southern cities to carry out operations against the army and the Popular Resistance Committees, local pro-army militias.
Witnesses said, meanwhile, that hundreds of Jaar’s residents, both men and women, gathered in front of the headquarters of the Resistance Committees in the city and fired into the air to celebrate Shadadi’s death.
One resident told the AFP that Shadadi, a Jaar resident himself, “had brought great harm to our city and he is responsible for all the devastation and the war” in the area.
In May, the army launched an all-out offensive against al-Qaeda in Abyan, forcing them to retreat from major strongholds including Jaar and Abyan’s capital Zinjibar. The campaign was backed by US drones which in recent months have been deployed in strikes against al-Qaeda targets in the south and east of the country.
Thursday’s strike was the second such drone attack this month.
On October 4, a drone blasted two cars carrying suspected al-Qaeda gunmen in the southern province of Shabwa, killing five of them.
The group took advantage of the weakness of Yemen’s central government in an uprising last year against now ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh, seizing large swathes of territory across the south. But after the month-long offensive, most fighters fled to the more lawless desert regions of the east.
Though weakened, the fighters still launch hit-and-run attacks on government and civilian targets throughout the country.
They are also increasingly targeting members of the local militias that fought to remove them from towns and cities in the south.
On Tuesday, al-Qaeda fighters, one of them a suicide bomber, killed six members of the Resistance Committees and wounded eight others in an attack on a checkpoint in the country’s south.