A senior al-Qaida official wanted by the United States and a local leader of the militant group's affiliate, Ansar al-Sharia, were killed in a drone strike in central Yemen overnight, tribal sources said on Wednesday.
Nabil al-Dahab, leader of Ansar al-Sharia in Yemen's al-Bayda province, was killed along with four other al-Qaida members, including Shawki al-Badani, the sources said. Badani is a leader of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula who is wanted by the United States.
The U.S. State Department has designated Badani as a “global terrorist”, saying he was linked to at least two plots against the U.S. embassy in Sanaa and a 2012 suicide bombing in the Yemeni capital that killed more than 100 soldiers.
A June 17, 2014, posting on the State Department website said the Yemeni government had offered a $100,000 reward for information about Badani. It also reported Yemeni authorities describing him as one of “the most dangerous terrorists affiliated with al-Qaida”.
U.S. drone strikes killed at least 10 suspected al-Qaida militants on Tuesday in central Yemen, where fighting between members of Ansar al-Sharia and rebel Shi'ite Muslim Houthi fighters also killed 10 people, tribesmen said.
Fighting has flared in different parts of Yemen since the Houthis rose to dominance in recent months, threatening the fragile stability of a country that borders Saudi Arabia, the world's biggest oil exporter.
Houthi forces took over Sanaa in September and fanned out into central and western Yemen. That antagonized Sunni tribesmen and al-Qaida militants, who regard the Houthis as heretics.
A tribal leader said one of Dahab's bodyguards was confirmed to have been killed in the overnight air strike, but he could not confirm Dahab himself had been killed because other bodies had been obliterated beyond recognition.
Other residents of Dahab's al-Manaseh village said they could neither confirm nor refute the reported death of the local Ansar al-Sharia leader, saying he had not been heard from since the Houthis captured the area last month.
The United States acknowledges using drones in Yemen but does not comment publicly on the practice. Sunni Islamist al-Qaida and its affiliates in Yemen are among the most active wings of the network founded by Osama bin Laden.
A statement issued by residents of the Qifa region, where the air strikes have taken place, complained that the strikes by both the U.S. drones and the Yemeni air force were targeting “women and children at home”.
“Those who are fighting the Houthis in Radda are the sons of the local tribes, and those who say they are al-Qaida ...are making these charges to justify the drones rocketing our houses and killing our families,” the statement said.