Four 'Qaeda suspects' killed by drone strike in Yemen
Four suspected Al-Qaeda militants were killed overnight in an apparent US drone strike in Mukalla, the southern Yemeni city that the extremist group overran in April, a local official said Sunday.
The four were travelling in a car on the tarmac of Mukalla's Al-Rayane airport that was struck by a missile fired by an "American drone", according to the unnamed official, killing them instantly.
The night strike follows a similar attack on Friday which killed three Al-Qaeda suspects as they travelled through the central Marib province, tribal sources said.
The United States is the only country known to operate armed drones over Yemen, and strikes have continued on suspected militants even as the country has been battered by months of fighting between pro- and anti-government forces.
Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), viewed by Washington as the extremist network's most dangerous branch, has taken advantage of the chaos to seize Mukalla, capital of the vast desert Hadramawt province.
The group admitted in June that its leader in Yemen Nasir al-Wuhayshi had been killed in a drone strike.
Two alleged senior AQAP commanders were killed in similar attacks in April.
Al-Qaeda makes gains in Aden
A local official said on Saturday that AQAP militants had planted a bomb that destroyed the headquarters of the secret police service in second city Aden, a possible sign of the extremist group's growing reach in Yemen.
The move shows how the organisation still holds formidable clout despite its relatively low-profile role in the country's raging civil war.
Fighters took Tawahi district, home to a presidential palace and Aden's main port, and were patrolling the streets, some carrying black banners, the officials said.
The militants also took parts of Crater, Aden's commercial center, and parts of the town of Dar Saad, just north of Aden, including an army base that their fighters turned into a training camp, they added.
Security officials near the seized base, in Dar Saad's al-Lohoum district, said it is now training some 200 militants.
Yemeni government spokesman Rajeh Badi, now based in Saudi Arabia, did not respond immediately to requests for comment.
Yemen's conflict pits Houthi rebels and troops loyal to the former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, against an array of forces including southern separatists, local and tribal
|Al-Qaeda appears to have taken advantage of a security vacuum in Aden to strengthen its presence.|
militias, Sunni Islamic militants as well as troops loyal to President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.
The conflict escalated when the Houthis took over the capital, Sanaa, last September, and intensified in March as a Saudi-led coalition started launching airstrikes against rebel positions.
Backed by heavy airstrikes, the coalition forces pushed the Houthis out of Aden last month, and have been pursuing them further to the north. They had been making rapid advances in armored columns until earlier this week, when rebels ambushed them in a major battle near the entrance to Bayda province.
Al-Qaeda appears to have taken advantage of a security vacuum in Aden to strengthen its presence. It also has forces in the cities of Breiqa, west of Aden, and al-Khadra, the officials added.
Omar al-Sobeihy, a resident of Dar Saad, said that while al-Qaeda fighters are moving freely in the area, "we haven't felt any harassment from them so far."
In the Tawahi district, resident Taha Faris described a similar situation.
"They are spread out in Tahawi and we can say they have the area under their control. So far they aren't harassing people, trying instead to gain support, though I fully realise they are waiting for the right moment to attack and control all of Aden," Faris said.
In Tawahi, al-Qaeda destroyed the main state security building on Saturday with a powerful bomb that was heard around the city, security officials said. The group has been trying to attack the site for several years, they added.
Meanwhile, an official with port security said one of their boats was set ablaze by suspected al-Qaeda militants.
Al-Qaeda, which had only a minor role the war against the Houthis, also has been on a major recruitment drive, adding hundreds of young men to its ranks and stockpiling weapons, several officials said.
A group of activists in Aden warned Hadi in an Aug. 11 letter that the town of al-Sheikh Othman in Aden province had become a center for arms dealers, voicing their frustration over the security vacuum.
The well-known activists, who campaign for more autonomy for the south, said al-Qaeda and other sleeper cells were buying and storing weapons from that market.
A high-ranking military official said the authorities in Aden wrongfully gave weapons to al-Qaeda when they randomly distributed them to pro-government forces in Aden in March and April while pursuing the Houthis. Al-Qaeda captured other weapons in clashes, according to the official.
High-ranking security and military officials met Saturday in the office of Aden's governor to discuss ways to quickly absorb pro-government fighters in the military, officials in his office said. Officials from Aden, Lahj, and Abin provinces attended the meeting.
The officials discussed the increasing reach of the attacks by al-Qaeda, including taking over some official government buildings in Aden and the bombing of the city's state security building.
Yemeni transport Minister Badr Bassalma told The Associated Press that Aden's ports were secure and operational, without elaborating. He spoke from Saudi Arabia, where Hadi fled to in March as the Houthis seized Aden. Some Yemeni officials are currently in Aden but the government remains in Saudi Arabia.