SANAA/ADEN (Reuters) - Dozens of armed tribesmen took to the streets in southern Yemen on Friday to protest against drone strikes that they say have killed innocent civilians and increased anger against the United States.
A drone killed at least three suspected al Qaeda militants including a local commander in the town of Redaa on Thursday, the fifth strike by a pilotless plane in the area in 10 days.
One tribesman participating in a sit-in in front of the government administration building in Redaa told Reuters by telephone that at least seven innocent civilians were killed in the recent raids.
“If the authorities don’t stop the American attacks then we will occupy the government institutions in the town,” he said.
Another said: “The government has opened up the country to the Americans so that they can kill Muslims.” The protesters were carrying rifles, as Yemeni tribesmen usually do, and there was no report of violence.
Separately, an army officer was kidnapped by suspected drug traffickers in Yemen’s eastern region of Hadramout, a local security official told Reuters, declining to be identified.
The kidnapping, which happened in the desert near the Saudi border, was thought to be a revenge act against an army operation against drug trade in the area three days ago that forced a group of traffickers to flee, the source said.
Yemeni officials will not comment on who exactly carries out drone attacks and on whose orders. Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi spoke openly in favor of the strikes during a trip to the United States in September.
Praised by the U.S. ambassador in Sanaa as being more effective against al Qaeda than his predecessor, Hadi was quoted as saying that he personally approved every attack. Hadi has not commented on the most recent strikes.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is considered by Western governments to be the most active and dangerous wing of the global network, and has attempted a number of attacks against U.S. targets.
Redaa was the scene in September of the killing of at least 10 civilians including a 10-year-old girl in an air strike that apparently missed its intended target, a car carrying militants nearby, tribal officials and residents said.
In 2011, AQAP offshoot, Ansar al-Sharia (Partisan of Islamic Law), seized a number of towns in the south that were retaken by the government in a U.S.-backed offensive in June.
Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari in Sanaa and Mohamed Mokhashaf in Aden,; Writing by Raissa Kasolowsky; Editing by Robin Pomeroy