55 al-Qaida militants reported dead in Yemen after US-backed air offensive

People inspect a car hit by an air strike in al-Bayda on Saturday which the Yemeni government acknowledged had killed three civilians...

People inspect a car hit by an air strike in al-Bayda on Saturday which the Yemeni government acknowledged had killed three civilians. Photograph: Reuters
At least 55 al-Qaida militants have been killed in Yemen, the country's interior ministry claimed after an intensive weekend air offensive in which US drones are believed to have been involved.
The operation, which started on Sunday and continued into Monday, focused on a rugged mountain area in the central and southern provinces of Yemen, where al-Qaida has been operating camps.
Several air strikes – presumed to be carried out chiefly by US drones – were launched against targets in the Mahfad region, between Abyan, Shabwa and al-Bayda provinces.
The reported deaths of 55 militants on Sunday alone would make it the biggest strike against al-Qaida militants in years.
Yemen's interior ministry said that the first strikes on Sunday lasted for several hours and claimed the lives of three prominent figures as well as dozens of other militants. It identified the three as Mohammed Salem Abed Rabbo al-Mashibi, Fawaz Hussein al-Mahrak and Saleh Said Mahrak.
The ministry said that identification of the dead was continuing, and that non-Yemeni Arab fighters were among those killed.
It said the strikes hit targets in the valley of Wadi al-Khayala and two other locations, Lodiya and Ramtha, which local tribal leaders said were at either end of the valley.
The security officials and local tribal leaders said Monday's strikes killed several militants, including one they identified as a local commander, Munnaser al-Anbouri. It was unclear how many militants died. It was possible to identify him because militants delivered his body to his family, who live in the area, the officials said.
A tribal chief from the area said flames and smoke were billowing from the location on Sunday. He said the militants had been seen in the past parking their vehicles in bushes in the area and he believed the fire was caused by the vehicles' fuel tanks. In recent weeks, he said, the militants had transported heavy weaponry to the area, including artillery.
A Yemeni security official told the Associated Press that the infrastructure of the base had been destroyed. He said the offensive was based on intelligence and "regional and international" co-operation, suggesting that neighbouring Saudi Arabia may also have been involved in the planning. There was no immediate US comment on the strikes.
The escalation came after the Yemeni defence minister, Major General Mohammed Nasser Ahmed, and his commanders returned from the US after a two-week visit.
The Yemeni government acknowledged that three civilians were killed in the air strike on Saturday in the central al-Bayda province, which also witnessed a controversial strike in December in which security officials said 15 people on their way to a wedding were killed.
Also late on Sunday, a Yemeni security official said anti-terrorist forces had targeted a vehicle suspected of carrying al-Qaida operatives in Shabwa.
Shortly after, a helicopter arrived on the scene to pick up the bodies and those injured, local witnesses said, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution.


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