SANAA — Suspected US drone strikes killed three Al-Qaeda militants on Sunday in the northern Yemeni province of Saada in the first such raid against the militant network there, 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 that 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.
The governor of Saada, 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 wounded in the raid.
The governor did not identify who carried out the strikes.
Yemen’s mountainous north is a stronghold of the Huthis, Shiite Zaidi rebels who in recent weeks have released several statements denouncing the presence of “unmanned drones” flying over their territory, according to the tribal source.
Since 2004, the Huthis have fought six wars with Yemen’s 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 strike was the fourth this month in Yemen.
On October 21, four Al-Qaeda members, including a local chief, were killed by a suspected US drone strike on their vehicle in Yemen’s 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.
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 (AQAP), 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.