Three suspected Al Qaeda militants were killed in a U.S. drone attack in the south-eastern province of Maareb. The mostly desert area has been a refuge for militants driven from their strongholds by a recent offensive.
Al Qaeda and other militants had taken over almost entire provinces in the south of Yemen but an offensive by Yemeni forces advised and supported by U.S.advisers drove them out. However, they still mount effective attacks upon the government and security forces. The U.S. has continued to mount many drone attacks in Yemen.
Last Thursday (October 18), a drone strike killed nine people in a farmhouse in Abyan province. One of those killed was described as a local AQAP leader.
After former president Saleh gave up power in a deal that granted immunity from prosecution to him, his family, and associates, his vice-president Mansour Hadi was elected president unopposed. He was supported by the U.S. Hadi has been praised by the U.S. ambassador to Yemen as being more effective in battling militants than his predecessor. Hadi has been quoted as saying that he approves every drone attack.
The UK-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism, claims that as many as 56 civilians have been killed by drones this year alone. Reports on the strikes usually identify the victims as suspected militants. Sometimes when a high value target is killed, this will be mentioned.
On September 10, the Yemeni Ministry of Defense website announced that Said al-Shehri, the second in command of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) was killed during a Yemeni army operation in the remote province of Hadramout. Other sources said he was killed by a U.S. drone. Shehri is a Saudi who had been at Guantanamo. On Sept.16, Saudi officials said they could not confirm al-Shehri's death.
Now al-Shehri has released an audio tape denying he was killed. The media adviser to Yemen's prime minister said that the tape seemed authentic. It is not uncommon for high value targets to have almost as many lives as cats. On the tape al-Shehri says:"The news that was reported about my killing in the Arabian Peninsula is a rumor to cover up the killing of the innocent, unarmed Muslims in Yemen, who were killed by American drones in the east and west."
After being released from Guantanamo, al-Shehri was returned to Saudi Arabia where he took part in a rehabilitation program. Armed with these credentials, he was able to become second in command of AQAP.