SANAA (Reuters) - An air strike killed 10 al Qaeda militants in central Yemen on Saturday after an intelligence report said they were planning attacks on civil and military targets in al-Bayda province, the state news agency Saba said.
Saba quoted an official source in the High Security Committee as saying that the strike hit the militants, described as “among the dangerous and leading elements of al Qaeda”, in a car as they were on their way to the central province.
Ten al Qaeda militants were killed and one was wounded, the source said, while three civilians were also killed and five were wounded because they happened to be in a nearby vehicle.
“This happened after security bodies received confirmed intelligence information about the presence of a car with 11 terrorist elements on board who were planning to target vital civil and military institutions in al-Bayda province,” Saba cited the source as saying.
Earlier on Saturday, security and tribal sources had told Reuters that 13 suspected militants were killed, as well as three civilians. The tribal sources said a drone had been circling al-Bayda for days.
Nasser Salem, a witness who arrived at the scene after the strike, told Reuters: “We found a completely burnt car and body parts strewn around and we started picking them up.”
Yemen has been fighting Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) - regarded by Washington as one of the most lethal wings of the group - but AQAP still manages to carry out significant attacks against security forces in the poor Arab country.
Stability in Yemen is a top priority because of the country’s location next to oil exporting giant Saudi Arabia. Riyadh 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.
The nature of the strike was unclear. The official source quoted by Saba described it as a success “achieved by security and military forces.”
The United States has stepped up drone strikes as part of a campaign against the Yemen-based AQAP. Yemen is among a handful of countries where the United States acknowledges using drones, but it does not comment on the practice.
Earlier this week, suspected al Qaeda militants shot dead the deputy governor of al-Bayda as he was leaving his home, according to a security official.
Al-Bayda has seen serious security incidents in the past. In December, 15 people on their way to a wedding were killed by an air strike after their party was apparently mistaken for an al Qaeda convoy, according to security officials.
The Yemeni government said in a statement at the time that senior al Qaeda militants were targeted in the air strike. It did not say who carried out the attack.
AQAP’s leader recently appeared in a video addressing a large gathering of fighters somewhere in Yemen and vowed to attack the United States.
Writing by Yara Bayoumy; Editing by Tom Heneghan