Yemeni troops and suspected US drones have launched renewed attacks on Islamist militants. The push comes after the CIA claimed earlier in the week to have foiled a suicide plot targeting a US-bound plane.
The simultaneous attacks on Islamist militants in Yemen on Saturday are part of an intensified campaign to reverse recent gains made by al Qaeda affiliates in the country's south and east.
A suspected US drone airstrike set two vehicles on fire in the southeastern province of Shabwa, killing seven militants, according to Yemeni authorities. One of the dead was reportedly Egyptian. The Yemeni Defense Ministry reported that a second presumed US airstrike killed another 10 militants in the eastern oil-producing province of Marib.
Washington has stepped up its drone campaign over Yemen in recent weeks, killing senior militant leader Fahd al-Quso last Sunday. The Federal Bureau of Investigation had placed a $5 million bounty on al-Quso, who was wanted in connection with the USS Cole bombing in 2000.
The Obama administration considers the Yemen-based al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) to be the most dangerous branch of the terrorist organization. Earlier this week, the CIA claimed to have thwarted an AQAP attempt to blow up a US-bound airliner through a suicide bomber using non-metallic explosives.
In 2009, passengers on a Detroit-bound trans-Atlantic flight foiled an attempt by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the so-called underwear bomber, to down the plane. And in 2010, AQAP tried to ship ink-cartridges filled with explosives to Chicago-area Synagogues.
Yemen launches offensive
Yemeni forces, meanwhile, launched an offensive to re-take the southern town of Zinjibar from al Qaeda militants. The militants overran Zinjibar, the capital of Abyan province, during the political confrontation between anti-government demonstrators and former president Ali Abdullah Saleh in 2011.
Saleh, a close ally in the US "War on Terror," agreed to a political transition in November 2011 in exchange for political immunity. His successor, Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi, was elected for an interim two-year term as president in a single candidate vote in late February.
Hadi has pledged to rid Yemen of al Qaeda-linked militants. The U.S. Defense Department resumed training Yemeni security forces last week after a suspension during the political upheaval that ultimately ousted Saleh.
"A force of about 20,000 men is taking part in this offensive, ordered by President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi to free the cities of Zinjibar and Jaar," a military official told the news agency Reuters on the condition of anonymity. The official said navy units were also being used in the operation.
slk/mr (AP, AFP, Reuters)