SANAA, Yemen (AP) — A suspected U.S. drone strike in Yemen killed six alleged al-Qaida militants Thursday in one of the group’s former strongholds in a central province, a military official said.
The strike — the sixth by a U.S. drone over the past 10 days — came as Yemen remained on high alert following threats of a terror attack targeting Western and Yemeni government interests.
So far, about 29 suspected militants have been killed by unmanned U.S. aircraft in an apparent stepped-up drone war in Yemen. While the United States acknowledges its drone program in Yemen, it does not confirm individual strikes or release information on how many have been carried out.
The Yemeni official said Thursday’s attack took place in the province of Marib, targeting a car carrying the suspected militants in the district of Wadi Ubaidah, some 175 kilometers (109 miles) east of the capital, Sanaa.
Bodies of the suspected militants were seen lying charred alongside their vehicle, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with military regulations.
Five of the killed militants were Yemenis while the sixth was believed to be of an Arab nationality, he said.
The U.S. and British embassies have evacuated embassy staff over a threatened attack that prompted Washington to temporarily close 19 diplomatic posts in the Middle East and Africa.
For their part, Yemeni authorities on Wednesday said they uncovered an al-Qaida plot to target foreign embassies and international shipping lanes in the Red Sea.
A U.S. intelligence official and a Mideast diplomat have told The Associated Press that the closures were triggered by the interception of a secret message between al-Qaida chief Ayman al-Zawahri and Nasser al-Wahishi, the leader of the Yemen-based al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, about plans for a major attack.
Yemeni troops have implemented drastic security measures across Sanaa, with multiple checkpoints set up and tanks and other military vehicles guarding vital institutions. The army has surrounded foreign installations, government offices and the airport with tanks and troops in the capital, as well as the strategic Bab al-Mandeb straits at the entrance to the Red Sea in the southern Arabian Peninsula.
The terror network’s Yemeni offshoot, known as al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, has been bolstering its operations in Yemen over a decade after key Saudi operatives fled here following a major crackdown in their homeland.
The al-Qaida group overran entire towns and villages in the country in 2011, taking advantage of a security lapse during nationwide protests that eventually ousted Yemen’s longtime ruler, Ali Abdullah Saleh. Backed by the U.S. military, Yemen’s army was able to regain control of the southern region, but al-Qaida militants continue to launch deadly attacks on security forces.