Missile-armed drone aircraft launched the fifth attack on suspected al-Qaida militants in Yemen within 72 hours, as the U.S. stepped up raids after closing its embassy and warning Americans to leave the country.
The drone killed three people in a vehicle in Ghail Bawazeer region, according to the al-Sahwa news website of the opposition Islamist Islah party, which is linked to the Muslim Brotherhood. At least 22 suspected militants have been killed since Aug. 6, according to a tally from reports on the website.
The strikes come as the U.S., Britain and other Western countries closed their missions in Yemen and told citizens to leave, while Yemeni authorities said on Aug. 7 they had foiled an al-Qaida plot to seize port facilities. The Obama administration is keeping 19 embassies and consulates closed because “a threat still remains” from al-Qaida affiliates, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said yesterday.
The alert followed the interception of a message from Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden’s successor as al-Qaida chief in Pakistan, to the head of al-Qaida’s Yemen branch, Nasir al- Wuhayshi, according to two U.S. officials who asked not to be identified discussing sensitive intelligence.
Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, the group’s Yemeni branch, is the terrorist “franchise that is most likely and most capable to launch an international attack,” said Peter Salisbury from Chatham House’s Yemen forum in an interview. “The intelligence community was pretty worried before and are very worried now” about the group as “a source of attacks on Western interests.”
Across the Yemeni capital Sana’a, the government has boosted security around official buildings and embassies. Checkpoints have been set up and soldiers are patrolling the streets. At least three armored vehicles were visible at locations close to the U.S. embassy
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported a sharp increase in U.S. operations in Yemen in 2012, with at least 32 confirmed strikes, double the number carried out in 2011. The U.S. intends to end drone attacks in Pakistan soon, Secretary of State John Kerry said on Aug. 1.
Drone attacks detailed by al-Sahwa this month include three on Aug. 9 in Ghail Bawazeer, Marib and Hadramaut that killed 11 people, a strike in Shabwah on Aug. 7 that killed seven, and a strike in Marib on Aug. 6 that left four militants dead.
The mountainous country, described by the Central Intelligence Agency factbook as mostly desert, has become a battleground against al-Qaida militants planning attacks on Western targets and on Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil supplier.
In 2011, popular unrest led to the toppling of President Ali Abdullah Saleh as ruler of the poorest country in the Middle East, which has struggled to contain the threat from Islamic militants even with U.S. military assistance.
Saudi authorities yesterday arrested two people in contact with an al-Qaida linked group outside the kingdom planning to carry out suicide operations, the official Saudi Press Agency reported, citing the country’s Interior Ministry.
Ministry spokesman Major General Mansour al-Turki told Al Arabiya television that there is a connection between the suspects and threats to embassies in the region.
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