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Drone strike kills six suspected militants in Yemen

By Hakim Almasmari, for CNN
updated 6:40 AM EST, Thu January 24, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Drone strike hits vehicle
  • Six suspected militants are killed, officials say
  • Attack occurred in area believed used by al Qaeda

(CNN) -- A U.S. drone strike on a vehicle just outside the capital of Sanaa killed six suspected al-Qaeda militants Wednesday night, three Yemeni Defense Ministry officials told CNN.

The strike took place in Al-Masna'a village of Khawlan district, 35 kilometers southeast of the capital. Three of the killed were senior members of al Qaeda, two of whom were Saudi nationals, the officials said.

Security teams were deployed to the scene, one of the officials said.

"Yemen needs stability and these militants must be killed if Yemen has a chance to stabilize, " said a Defense Ministry official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to talk to media.

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He said that more strikes will continue and that al Qaeda is living its weakest days in Yemen. "The militants know that no place in Yemen is safe for them anymore, even in areas close to the capital Sana'a," he added.

The United States views Yemen as being on the front line of the war on al Qaeda. Yemen is adjacent to Saudi Arabia, and chaos in Yemen could disrupt oil supplies and upset world energy markets.

Eyewitnesses told CNN that three missiles were used in the attack after the first missed its target. Flames from the attack burned for more than an hour.

Khawlan is one of the most lawless areas in the country and al Qaeda uses it as a traveling route to numerous parts of the country, local tribal leaders said.

"There is no government presence in many parts of Khawlan. No security forces, checkpoints, military presence or police stations," said Ahmed Obad al-Shuraif, a top tribal chief in Khawlan.

The attack was the 8th reported by a U.S. drone over in the last four days in Yemen, the Defense Ministry officials said.

When Yemen's 2011 uprising led to the al Qaeda invasion of Abyan -- the southern province of Yemen -- Washington was quick to call on newly elected President Abdo Rabu Mansour Hadi to set his house in order and address militarily the threat posed by al-Qaeda in the country.

But drone strikes missed targets on a couple of occasions, resulting in civilian casualties and strong criticism from the Yemeni government.

The latest string of criticism came from Human Rights Minister Hooria Mashour, who said that due to civilian deaths she was in favor of changing the anti-terrorism strategy.

"All we are calling for is justice and reliance on international regulations with regard to human rights and to be true to our commitment to our citizens in that they all deserve a fair trial," Mashour said.

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