Drone hits Al Qaeda suspects in Yemeni province while exiled president on visit

CAIRO (Reuters) - A suspected U.S. drone strike wounded four Al Qaeda fighters in Yemen’s central Marib province on Sunday, local tribesmen and media said, hours after the exiled Yemeni president flew in to meet Arab military leaders in his war against the Houthi rebels.

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Sunday’s drone strike happened on the same day as President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi arrived in Marib city, about 120 km (75 miles) east of the capital Sanaa. In a six-hour visit, he met commanders of a Saudi-led coalition backing him in a civil conflict in which thousands have died.

The war has allowed Islamist militants to flourish, even though the United States has for years launched drone strikes against groups in Yemen.

“Four Al Qaeda members were wounded when a U.S. drone targeted a car they were traveling in Jabul, east of Marib city,” said the tribesman who requested not to be named.

Yemen’s government did not respond to a request for comment on the strike. Washington does not comment on drone strikes in Yemen. Photographs shared in Yemeni media showed a crowd of men looking at black smoke rising from the remains of a landcruiser.

The coalition was formed early last year to fight the Iran-allied Houthis after they took over Sanaa, made gains in other provinces and forced Hadi’s government to flee into exile. Its mostly Gulf Arab members are now participating in Yemen’s battle against Islamist militants, which include groups like Al Qaeda and Islamic State.

Government and Emirati forces have been mounting a ground push in southern Yemen against towns held by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the group behind several foiled bombing attempts on Western-bound airliners and which claimed responsibility for the 2015 attack at the Charlie Hebdo magazine’s offices in Paris.

During his visit to Marib, Hadi, 70, said his government would boycott peace talks in Kuwait if the United Nations, who are leading the negotiations, pushed for the Houthi group and loyalists of Yemen’s former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, to be involved in a transitional government.

“We will not give them (the Houthis) what they want, which is the legitimization of their coup through negotiations in Kuwait,” Hadi was quoted as saying by the state news agency, Saba.

Nearly half of Yemen’s 22 provinces are on the verge of famine, according to the U.N. World Food Programme, as result of the war in the Arab world’s poorest country where conflict has drawn in regional powers and killed at least 6,000 people.

Writing by Tom Finn; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky