Middle East

Drone strikes kill 3 Qaeda suspects in north Yemen: tribe

SANAA: Suspected US drone strikes killed three Al-Qaeda militants on Sunday in the northern Yemeni province of Saada in the first such raid there against the militant network, tribal sources told AFP.

"Three Al-Qaeda suspects were killed in three separate drone strikes in Saada," a tribal source said, adding the raids targeted Wadi al-Abu Jabara, an Al-Qaeda bastion some 250 kilometres (155 miles) north of the Yemeni capital.

A second tribal source confirmed the toll, saying Sunday's strike "was the first by a US drone in the northern Saada province."

The United States is the only country that operates drones in the region.

Saada Governor Sheikh Fares Manaa confirmed on the defence ministry's website that "three members of Al-Qaeda were killed in an air raid" in Wadi al-Abu Jabara.

He said the dead men were two Saudis and a Yemeni.

"The two Saudis gave money to Al-Qaeda to finance terrorist operations" in Yemen, he said, adding that a local leader of the militant network, Omar Saleh al-Tiss, was seriously wounded in a raid on the way to his son's wedding.

The governor did not identify who carried out the strikes.

A local official said one of the strikes took place at around 10:00 am (0700 GMT), as people were arriving for the wedding.

Yemen's mountainous north is a stronghold of the Huthis, Shiite Zaidi rebels who in recent weeks have denounced the presence of "unmanned drones" flying over their territory, according to the tribal sources.

Since 2004, the Huthis fought six wars with the central government before signing a truce in February 2010.

Today they are embroiled in deadly sectarian clashes with Salafists who are trying to tighten their grip on the traditionally Shiite north.

Sunday's drone strikes were the fourth in Yemen this month.

On October 21, four Al-Qaeda members, including a local chief, were killed in a suspected US drone strike on their vehicle in the eastern Maarib province.

Four days earlier, rockets fired from a drone near Jaar in the southern Abyan province killed at least seven suspected Al-Qaeda operatives.

And on October 4, a drone strike blasted two cars carrying Al-Qaeda gunmen in the south, killing five of them.

US drones deployed in the region have backed Yemeni forces in combating militants of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the group's Yemen branch, considered by Washington to be the most active and deadly.

AQAP took advantage of the weakness of Yemen's central government during an uprising last year against now ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh, seizing large swathes of territory across the south.

But after a month-long offensive in May launched by Yemeni troops, most militants fled to the more lawless desert regions of the east.





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