NEW: Al Qaeda leader Shawki al-Badani was a top priority target wanted by the U.S.
A Yemeni official says al-Badani was killed in a strike
The U.S. has connected al-Badani to U.S. embassy attack plots
An al Qaeda leader in Yemen was among those killed in what a Yemeni official called a “counterterrorism strike,” the latest such strike at a time of intensified fighting in the Arab nation.
The Yemeni official said Wednesday that those killed include Shawki al-Badani, whom the U.S. State Department named a “specially designated global terrorist” in June. So, too, was Nabil al-Dahab, a top member of the conservative Salafist group Ansar al Sharia.
Initial reports out of Yemen sometimes prove untrue. That said, the United States similarly believes al-Badani was killed in a strike, according to two U.S. officials who spoke to CNN on the condition of anonymity.
They said they are still trying to confirm whether al-Dahab was killed. The officials would not say if the two men were at the same location.
U.S. drones have been active in attacking suspected militants of late in Yemen, given the continued strength there of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, one of the terrorist network’s most active and high-profile branches.
On Tuesday, for instance, local security officials said that U.S. drones had killed at least nine suspected al Qaeda members.
Getting al-Badani – if and when his death is confirmed – would appear to be a significant step for U.S. and allied forces.
According to the State Department, he was a leader in al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula who was reportedly assigned to target the U.S. Embassy in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa. He’s also been connected to May 2012 suicide bombing that killed more than 100 Yemeni soldiers and a summer 2013 plot that led to the closure of 19 U.S. diplomatic posts in the Middle East and Africa.
Fighting continues on the ground in Yemen as well.
The warring parties include not only Yemeni troops and AQAP militants, but also Houthis, members of a militant group that follows the Zaidi sect of Islam. The Houthis have managed to defeat al Qaeda on numerous fronts, last week sweeping its militants from a stronghold in Al Baitha province.
Adding to an increasingly volatile situation, a secessionist movement in the south of Yemen, al Hirak, has stepped up protests in Aden, Yemen’s chief port and the largest city in the south.
CNN’s Elise Labott, Barbara Starr and journalist Hakim Almasmari contributed to this report.