ADEN, Yemen (Reuters) - Air strikes in southern Yemen killed about 25 suspected al Qaeda members on Sunday, local tribal sources said, in the second operation of its kind within two days.
On Saturday an air strike killed 10 al Qaeda militants and three civilians in central Yemen, a country that neighbors top oil exporter Saudi Arabia and is home to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), one of the group’s most lethal wings.
The defense ministry said Sunday’s strikes targeted a remote mountainous region of the south. Its website quoted an official source on the High Security Committee as saying that they were based on information that “terrorist elements were planning to target vital civilian and military installations”.
Similar wording was used to justify Saturday’s strike, in which three nearby civilians were also killed.
The defense ministry did not specify the nature of the air strikes, but in both cases local sources said unmanned drone aircraft had been circulating the target areas beforehand.
The United States acknowledges using drone strikes to target AQAP in Yemen, but it does not comment on the practice.
Local tribal sources said about 25 bodies had been transferred from the sites of Sunday’s attacks to nearby towns. They said at least three separate strikes had taken place after dawn prayers, all targeting al Qaeda camps.
One official said the militants targeted were among the “leading and dangerous” elements of al Qaeda and were of different nationalities.
Eyewitnesses said they had seen al Qaeda militants dragging dead bodies and some wounded people out of the area.
U.S. drone attacks have killed several suspected AQAP figures, including Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S.-born Islamist cleric accused of links to plots to bomb a Detroit-bound airliner in 2009 and U.S. cargo planes in 2010.
Saudi Arabia also watches AQAP with concern, since the branch was founded by citizens of both countries and has sworn to bring down its ruling al-Saud family.
An online video has been circulating with AQAP leader Nasser al-Wuhaishi addressing a large gathering of fighters in an undisclosed mountainous region of Yemen and vowing to attack the United States.
Yemen has been fighting AQAP but the group, which has attacked military targets, tourists and diplomats in the country and taken over territory for long periods, is proving hard to beat so far.
Reporting by Mohamed Mukhashaf; Writing by Yara Bayoumy and Maha El Dahan; Editing by Mark Trevelyan