No senior al Qaeda leaders die in the attack in a southern province, officials say
Defense ministry: 30 people killed in airstrikes
Unclear whether the fatalities were caused by drone strikes or Yemeni forces
U.S. drone strikes targeted al Qaeda hideouts in southern Yemen on Wednesday, killing 27 suspected militants, local government officials said.
No senior al Qaeda leaders died in the attack in the Shabwa province town of Azzan, the officials said. The strikes’ targets included a home suspected of harboring militants, three senior security officials said.
The defense ministry had earlier said that 30 people died in Azzan airstrikes, but did not say whether the fatalities were caused by the drone strikes or Yemeni forces, who were also conducting airstrikes in the area.
Militants headed to Azzan after they lost control of Abyan province Tuesday, sending the town’s residents fleeing over fear of more strikes.
“Azzan is where we expect the militants to seek shelter after the fall of Jaar,” said a senior security official. “It’s their last stronghold in Yemen.” The officials did not want to be named because they are not authorized to talk to the news media.
Al Qaeda denied in a statement posted no jihadist websites that any militants were killed and said that 10 drone strikes were conducted in Shabwa.
At least 14 U.S. drone strikes were conducted over the past two days in both southern provinces, security officials said.
One of the strikes targeted the convoy of Jalal Beleidi, a top commander of the Ansar al-Sharia Islamist militant group.
Beleidi, who was fleeing Jaar on his way to the coastal town of Shaqra, escaped unharmed, the officials said.
Yemeni forces are patrolling major towns in the province in search for militants, witnesses said.
The defense ministry said the road linking Abyan to Aden reopened after militants lost control of the province.
Yemen is sending hundreds of troops to Jaar to maintain control of the town, officials said.
Three-hundred al Qaeda militants fled Tuesday, said Jamal al-Aqel, the governor of Abyan, who urged the government to help rebuild the province.
More than 150,000 Abyan residents were displaced last year after fleeing the war. They are living in shelters in neighboring Aden and Lahj provinces.
The new government plans to search for al Qaeda sleeper cells in major Yemeni cities, said Ali Saeed Obaid, a spokesman for the military committee, the country’s highest military authority.