US air raids kill al-Qaeda fighters in Yemen

United States drone attacks have killed at least 20 al-Qaeda-linked fighters including some of their leaders, tribal sources said on Saturday, while the UN’s refugee agency warned of a new wave of internally displaced people.

Tribal sources in Bayda, about 267 km southeast of the capital Sanaa, said they recovered 17 bodies of militants believed to be al-Qaeda members under the rubble of buildings destroyed by the air raids, launched late on Friday.

“The bodies were recovered on Saturday morning after the cessation of the attacks carried out by US drone airplanes, and the search for the remaining victims is still under way,” said one of the sources.

A local official said the raids targeted a rural area where Abdulwahhab al-Homaiqani, a local al-Qaeda leader, was believed to be based together with dozens of his followers. The official did not confirm whether Homaiqani was killed or not.

It was not independently confirmed whether the air strikes were carried out by Yemen’s air force or a US unmanned planes.

A government source said vehicles and cars used by al-Qaeda were also destroyed in the attacks and that the militants had equipment and weapons to launch attacks in Bayda governorate.

Militants have expanded their operations in southern Yemen during months of turmoil that eventually unseated the president.

Residents earlier said that fighter planes had raided the western outskirts of Bayda town where the Ansar al-Sharia (Partisans of Islamic Law) militants, who have been fighting Yemen’s security forces since mid-2011, had been based.

“Flames and smoke could be seen rising from the area,” one resident said by telephone.

Ansar al-Sharia is inspired by al-Qaeda but the precise nature of its ties to the global network is unclear, although the Yemeni government says they are one and the same.

Working with the Yemeni authorities, the US has repeatedly used drones to attack militants from al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, described by CIA Director David Petraeus last year as “the most dangerous regional node in the global jihad”.

In late January, at least 12 al-Qaeda militants, including four local leaders, were killed in a drone strike in southern Yemen, which a tribal chief said was a US attack.

The US along with Yemen’s neighbour and world No. 1 oil exporter Saudi Arabia have been deeply worried about the expansion of al-Qaeda in Yemen, where the group controls swathes of land near oil shipping routes through the Red Sea.

The United Nations refugee agency UNHCR warned on Friday that Yemen is facing a new wave of internal displacement as tens of thousands of civilians flee tribal clashes in the north and fighting between the government and militants in the south.

It said that in the past two weeks alone, 1 800 people have been displaced by the latest escalation in fighting between government troops and militants in the Abyan governorate.

UNHCR said it wants $60-million in 2012 for about 216 000 refugees and almost half a million displaced people in Yemen.—Reuters

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