Drone strike kills seven Qaeda militants in Yemen

Three drones, all MQ-9 Reapers, were used in the operation in Raqa in which "Jihadi John" is believed to have been killed, and "one of them was British," a US official said of the drones (AFP Photo/Massoud Hossaini) (AFP/File)

Aden (AFP) - A suspected US drone strike killed seven Al-Qaeda militants in Yemen's south Wednesday, the defence ministry and tribal sources said, the latest in a series of raids against the extremist network.

The militants were hit by the strike while gathered "under a group of trees" in the village of Azzan in the southern province of Shabwa, a tribal source said.

The defence ministry said in a brief statement on its website that seven Al-Qaeda militants were killed in an air raid Wednesday in Azzan.

"Those killed were planning to carry out a terrorist attack in Azzan using a bomb-laden vehicle," it said, without confirming that the attack was carried out by a US drone.

Tribal sources reported that two other drone strikes were carried out overnight in the same area but they were unable to say if the attacks caused any casualties.

Drone strikes against Al-Qaeda suspects in Yemen have intensified this month, with at least 20 militants killed in raids by unmanned aircraft in the central province of Baida on November 3.

The United States is the only country operating drones over Yemen, but US officials rarely confirm individual strikes.

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) had announced the death of two of its top commanders, Shawki al-Baadani and Nabil al-Dahab, in recent raids.

The militant group has exploited instability in the impoverished country since a 2011 uprising overthrew president Ali Abdullah Saleh.

The turmoil has raised fears that Yemen, which neighbours oil-rich Saudi Arabia and lies on the key shipping route from the Suez Canal to the Gulf, may become a failed state similar to Somalia.

In recent weeks AQAP militants have been locked in deadly battles with Shiite Huthi militia fighters who have overrun the capital Sanaa and several other cities.

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