Middle East

Yemen identifying 'militants' killed in air strikes

Car destroyed in air strike in Bayda province (19 April 2014) Image copyright AP
Image caption One official said the "unprecedented" strikes came after information suggested attacks were being planned

Yemeni officials are working to identify some of the dozens of suspected militants killed in a series of air strikes in recent days.

DNA tests are being carried out to establish whether two senior figures in al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula - its leader Nasser al-Wuhayshi and bombmaker Ibrahim al-Asiri - are among them.

However, US officials say neither man was an intended target of the strikes.

Training camps in remote, mountainous areas and several vehicles were hit.

The last strike reportedly destroyed a 4x4 carrying at least three men that was travelling through the province of Shabwa.

Witnesses said that soldiers in an unmarked helicopter arrived at the scene soon afterwards to retrieve their bodies, suggesting one or more of them might have been a senior militant.

Al-Qaeda 'leaders' killed

The strikes in Shabwa and the neighbouring provinces of Bayda and Abyan started on Saturday and ended shortly after midnight on Monday.

A top Yemeni official told the AFP news agency that the "unprecedented" air campaign came after "information that al-Qaeda was plotting attacks on vital installations, military and security, as well as foreign interests".

Yemen's interior ministry said that as many as 55 militants including three "leaders" of al-Qaeda, had been killed on Sunday and early Monday, and another 10 on Saturday.

The report sparked rumours that Wuhayshi and Asiri were among the dead, and on Tuesday Yemeni officials revealed that they were carrying out DNA tests in an effort to identify several bodies.

Wuhayshi, a Yemeni former aide to Osama Bin Laden, is said to have overseen the formation of al-Qaeda in Yemen and later the merger with the Saudi offshoot of the jihadist militant network that led to the creation of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

He appeared in a video last week warning that AQAP would fight Western "Crusaders" and their allies everywhere.

Asiri is a Saudi who US counter-terrorism officials have accused of making the bombs used in a string of high-profile operations by AQAP.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Nasser al-Wuhayshi was recently filmed addressing a large gathering of militants in Yemen

He is believed to have built the device his younger brother used in an assassination attempt on Saudi Arabia's deputy interior minister in August 2009, and the underwear bomb a Nigerian man tried to detonate in an aircraft over the US in December 2009.

US officials told the New York Times that they had been trying to kill Wuhayshi and Asiri, but that they had not been the intended targets of the strikes over the weekend.

The senior Yemeni official said Yemeni MiG-29 fighter jets took part in the raids, which tribal and local sources said also involved US drones.

Both the CIA and the Pentagon declined to comment on the operations, and White House spokesman Jay Carney referred all questions to the authorities in Sanaa.

Meanwhile, four security officers have been killed in a series of attacks in the past two days in the capital Sanaa and the central city of Harib, officials say. A colonel in the military police was shot dead by two men on a motorcycle as he was walking to work on Tuesday morning.

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