Sana’a: Tribal elders say the son of slain US-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki has been killed in a US missile strike along with six other al Qaeda militants, including the media chief of the terror group’s Yemeni branch. Gunmen responded by blowing up a pipeline used to export gas, Yemeni officials and residents said.
The elders in the southeastern province of Shabwa where the strike took place identified the son as 21-year-old Abdul-Rahman al-Awlaki. There was no official confirmation of his death from Yemeni authorities.
The elders, who spoke on Saturday on condition of anonymity because they feared reprisals, had earlier said that five of al-Awlaki’s clan were among the seven people killed in the missile attack.
The older al-Awlaki, a gifted Muslim preacher and savvy Internet operator who became a powerful al Qaeda recruiting tool, was killed on September 30, also in a US drone attack.
The strike points to Washington`s growing use of drones to hit al Qaeda militants in Yemen. The targeted attacks appear to be part of a determined effort to stamp out the threat from the group, known as al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, which US officials have said is the terror network`s most active and most dangerous branch.
The slain media chief has been identified as Egyptian-born Ibrahim al-Bana.
Security officials said an American drone carried out the attack, which was one of five overnight strikes that targeted suspected al Qaeda positions in Shabwa and the neighbouring province of Abyan in Yemen`s largely lawless south.
Officials and tribal elders in the area said the strike followed a meeting of al Qaeda militants in a house in Azan, a district in Shabwa. A missile hit the house after the militants had already left, but a second strike targeted two sport utility vehicles in which the seven were travelling after the meeting.
The two vehicles were completely destroyed and the men`s bodies were charred, said the officials and the tribal elders speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to brief the media. It was not clear whether other participants in the meeting were targeted in separate strikes.
AQAP has taken advantage of the political turmoil roiling Yemen, as embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh has been struggling to stay in power in the face of eight months of massive street protests demanding his ouster and the defection to the opposition of key aides and military commanders.
Militants linked to AQAP have taken over several cities in the south, raising fears that they can establish a permanent stronghold in this strategically located nation. Yemen is in the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, on the doorstep of Saudi Arabia and the oil-producing nations of the Gulf. It also overlooks strategic sea routes leading to the Suez Canal.
In a separate development, the security officials said suspected al Qaeda militants have bombed a key, underground gas pipeline that extends from the Balhaf area in Shabwa to an export terminal on the Arabian Sea. The Friday night attack started a massive fire, with columns of flames lighting the night sky and seen from miles away.