Sana’a: A US drone strike aiming for an al Qaeda leader has killed five militants in the country`s south as part of a Yemeni offensive against the Islamist group, Yemeni officials said.
They said Monday’s airstrike targeted Qaid al-Dahab, a local leader of al Qaeda, in a convoy of three cars near the town of Radda, 160 kilometres (100 miles) south of the capital, Sana’a. Four militants were wounded. The officials said al-Dahab`s fate was not yet known.
Al-Dahab`s sister was the wife of Anwar al-Awlaki, the US-born radical militant cleric killed by a US drone strike last fall.
There was no immediate word from Washington on the strike that targeted al-Dahab.
On Sunday, US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta defended drone strikes in Yemen as a measure "to defend and protect the United States of America”. He was interviewed by the American ABC TV network.
Al Qaeda`s branch in Yemen, known as Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, is one of the movement`s most dangerous offshoots. The US considers the impoverished country as a key battleground in the war against al Qaeda.
The terror network has had a presence in Yemen for years, but expanded its influence during last year`s political upheaval when millions of Yemenis rallied across the country demanding the ouster of their longtime ruler, Ali Abdullah Saleh. The militant group seized control of several towns in the south during the turmoil.
Earlier this year, al-Dahab`s brother, Tariq, led militants who stormed and briefly occupied Radda, They pulled out after authorities released 15 of his men from jail. Tariq was later killed in a family feud.
Later yesterday, Yemen officials said seven other al Qaeda militants were killed in southern Yemen, but they disagreed over how they died. Security officials said they were killed in an airstrike, but the military said they were hit by a missile fired from a ship off Yemen`s shore. Local tribal officials said the seven militants were in two cars.