NEW: 4 suspected al Qaeda militants die in a second drone attack in Yemen's Mareb province
7 militants died in a drone strike 30 minutes earlier in the province, officials say
The attack is part of an intense air campaign targeting al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula
A senior operative of the terror group was killed by a drone last Sunday
A pair of U.S. drone strikes killed 11 suspected al Qaeda militants Saturday in Yemen’s Mareb province, part of a continuing air campaign targeting the terror organization, security officials said.
The first drone attack killed seven people after it hit one of three vehicles carrying the suspected militants in the district of Huraib, the officials said. The other two vehicles fled the area unharmed and continued toward the southern Abyan province.
A heavy government presence was at the scene immediately after the attack and residents said thick smoke and flames could be seen from miles away.
The dead included three al Qaeda leaders, according to the officials, who called the attack a blow to the al Qaeda network in the country.
About 30 minutes later, another drone strike killed another four suspected al Qaeda militants in the same central Yemeni province, the same security officials said.
The strikes occurred nearly a week after a senior operative of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula was killed by a CIA drone strike and less than three weeks after a Yemeni-linked terror plot to bring down a U.S.-bound jetliner was foiled.
Fahd al Quso, 37, was killed while riding in a vehicle in the Rafdh district in Shabwa province on Sunday, according to officials.
Al Quso was indicted by a federal grand jury in New York in 2003 on 50 counts of terrorism offenses for his role in the October 12, 2000, bombing of the USS Cole in Aden, Yemen. The bombing killed 17 U.S. sailors.
The terror plot revealed this week has been described by U.S. officials as involving a device that is an evolution of the bomb smuggled aboard a U.S.-bound plane on Christmas Day 2009 by a young Nigerian, Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab. The device originated in Yemen and was brought to authorities’ attention by a mole who infiltrated al Qaeda, a source in the region told CNN this week. The man works for Saudi intelligence, which has cooperated with the CIA for years, the source said. Information from the mole also led to Sunday’s drone strike against al Quso.
Three months before his death, al Quso foreshadowed the thwarted attack.
“The war didn’t end between us and our enemies,” al Quso told a local journalist. “Wait for what is coming.”
On Thursday, eight suspected militants were killed in southern Yemen by a U.S. drone strike targeting a convoy of senior leaders of the Ansar al-Sharia militant network, an offshoot of al Qaeda. The strike, which was preceded by a string of airstrikes by Yemen’s air force, occurred in the Jaar district of Abyan province.
Yemen’s government has been fighting al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula for years with mixed results.
Suspected al-Qaeda militants seized Abyan last year during Yemen’s political stalemate after government troops evacuated most military posts in the province.