Yemeni TV says government forces have killed 34 suspected al-Qaida members in a dawn airstrike on rugged terrain 650-kilometers east of the capital Sana'a. Security sources say the al-Qaida operatives were meeting when the strike took place.
Yemeni fighter jets struck targets in rugged mountainous terrain in the southern province of Shabwa, according to Yemeni military sources. It was the second major airstrike against al-Qaida targets by Yemeni warplanes in just a week.
The Yemeni Defense Ministry's "26 September" website indicated top al-Qaida leaders had planned an early morning rendezvous to "give their condolences to the victims of last week's air raid" that killed several dozen al-Qaida militants.
Ahmed Abdul-Karim Saif of the University of Sana'a indicated the Yemeni government has been keeping a close watch on al-Qaida activities in recent weeks and decided to attack:
"Some scattered cells of al-Qaida in the Arabian peninsula have been monitored closely over recent weeks and it was localized that a meeting at four o'clock early morning today for al-Qaida, they were organizing to attack some oil installations and some foreign and Yemeni interests," he said. "And the Air Force [struck] this meeting [causing] over thirty casualties. The attacked site was in Rakeb Said in Shabwa governorate. Most likely the meeting was under the leadership of Nasser Waheeshy, leader of al-Qaida in the Arabian peninsula," he added.
Yemeni military sources indicated Waheeshy was probably killed in the raid, along with other top militants, including Anwar al-Awlaki, the mentor of alleged Fort Hood shooter Major Nidal Malik Hassan. One of the dead militants was also reportedly a former inmate at the U.S. Guantanamo Bay prison facility.
Yemeni government TV indicated security forces would "continue to pursue al-Qaida cells."
The TV says military sources are warning citizens not to give shelter, or aid, or help disguise terrorist elements from al-Qaida or to help them with their terrorist operations. Anyone, it adds, that does so will be punished. The TV also told citizens to stay away from al-Qaida militants and their hideouts for their own safety during operations to hunt down the terrorists.
Yemen's Deputy Defense Minister Rashad al-Alaimy told the Yemeni parliament Wednesday that "Yemeni security forces carried out [recent] operations using intelligence aid from both the United States and Saudi Arabia."
The U.S. defense department recently indicated that it has given Yemen $70 million in military assistance to battle al-Qaida. A high-level U.S. military delegation also met with top Yemeni military leaders last month.
Yemen accuses al-Qaida, which it calls the "evil and misguided forces of darkness" of plotting to attack the British Embassy in Sanaa with two carbombs and using suicide bombers wearing explosive belts. It also says that al-Qaida is "trying to set up an Islamic Emirate" on the Arabian peninsula.