TribLIVE

| USWorld

 
Larger text Larger text Smaller text Smaller text | Order Photo Reprints

Yemen says strikes on al-Qaida base kill 55

Email Newsletters

Click here to sign up for one of our email newsletters.

Daily Photo Galleries

'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

By The Associated Press
Monday, April 21, 2014, 12:08 p.m.
 

SANAA, Yemen — Yemeni forces, reportedly backed by U.S. drone strikes, hit al-Qaida militants for a second straight day Monday in what Yemen officials said was an assault on a major base of the terror group hidden in the remote southern mountains. The government said 55 militants were killed so far.

The sprawling base was a rare instance of a permanent infrastructure set up by al-Qaida's branch in the country, Yemeni security officials said. Built over the past months, it includes a training ground, storehouses for weapons and food and vehicles used by the group to launch attacks, they said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release details to the press.

The assault appeared to be a significant escalation in the U.S. and Yemeni campaign against al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, the terror group's powerful branch in the southern Arabian nation. The United States has been striking al-Qaida positions in the country heavily with drone strokes the past two years, trying to cripple the group after it was driven out of several southern cities it took over in 2011.

But the group has proven highly resilient, spreading around the country and working from mountain areas. In a show of the group's boldness, a video recently posted on Islamic militant websites showed the group's leader Nasser al-Wahishi meeting openly with a gathering of dozens of militants in the southern province of Abyan.

The base is in a remote mountain valley called Wadi al-Khayala in the rugged Mahfad region at the border between Abyan, and the neighboring provinces of Shabwa, and al-Bayda.

The first strikes came Sunday in an assault a high-level government security committee said was an attack on training grounds for the group. Yemeni Interior Ministry said it lasted for several hours. Yemeni officials and tribal leaders said new strikes, believed to include U.S. drone hits, came Monday. Another airstrike Saturday in al-Bayda killed at least nine militants.

The ministry said in a statement Monday that the strikes the day before had killed at least 55 militants including three prominent figures. It identified the three as Mohammed Salem Abed Rabbo al-Mashibi, Fawaz Hussein al-Mahrak, Saleh Said Mahrak. It said identification of the dead was continuing, and that non-Yemeni Arab fighters were among those killed. It said the strikes hit in Wadi al-Khayala and two other locations, Lodiya and Ramtha. Tribal leaders in the area said those are locations at either end of the valley.

Yemen's Supreme Security Committee, which includes the president, the defense and interior ministers and the head of intelligence, said Sunday the strikes targeted an important al-Qaida training camp that housed leading figures of the group. But it gave no further details.

The security officials and local tribal leaders said Monday's strikes killed several militants, including one they identified as a local commander, Munnaser al-Anbouri. It was unclear how many militants died. It was possible to identify him because militants delivered his body to his family, who lives in the area, the officials said.

A tribal chief from the area said there were columns of smoke and flames of fire billowing from the location of the hideout Sunday, adding that the militants had been seen in the past parking their vehicles in bushes in the area. The tribal leader said he believed the fire was caused by the fuel tanks in the vehicles. In recent weeks, he said, the militants transported heavy weaponry to the area, including artillery. He and the other tribal leaders spoke on condition of anonymity for security reasons.

One of the security officials said the infrastructure for the base has been destroyed. He said the offensive on the camp was based on intelligence and “regional and international” cooperation, suggesting that neighboring Saudi Arabia may also have been involved in the planning. There was no immediate U.S. comment on the strikes.

The escalation came after the return from the U.S. of Yemeni Defense Minister Maj. Gen. Mohammed Nasser Ahmed and his commanders following a two-week visit.

Washington escalated its fight against Yemen's branch of al-Qaida after it carried out a strike of unsuccessful bomb plots targeting Americans, including an attempt to bring down a U.S.-bound airliner with explosive hidden in the bomber's underwear and a second plot to send mail bombs hidden in the toner cartridges on planes headed to the U.S.

The group's fighters overran several towns and cities in southern Yemen in 2011, taking advantage of the political chaos amid a popular uprising against then-President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was later driven from power.

A major 2012 government offensive, aided by the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, drove out al-Qaida militants from southern towns they took control of following the security vacuum a year earlier during a popular uprising against Yemen's longtime leader Ali Abdullah Saleh. The group remained largely mobile and used rugged mountain areas for cover, often with approval from some tribal leaders.

Also late Sunday, a security official said anti-terrorism Yemeni forces have targeted a vehicle suspected of carrying al-Qaida operatives in Shabwa. Shortly after, a helicopter arrived on the scene to pick up the bodies and those injured, local witnesses said, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution.

On Monday, President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi decorated the anti-terrorism unit with a courage badge for the operation against al-Qaida operatives. The identity of those targeted was not immediately clear.

Subscribe today! Click here for our subscription offers.

 

 


Show commenting policy

Most-Read World

  1. NATO proclaims ‘strong solidarity’ with Turkey against IS
  2. U.S., Turkey plan for ‘safe zone’ free of ISIS in northern Syria
  3. Gunbattle kills 21 at Afghan wedding party
  4. Boehner vows to do ‘everything possible’ to scuttle Iran nuclear deal
  5. Humanitarian cease-fire halts airstrikes in Yemen
  6. Turkey to stick with air offensive in ISIS battle
  7. Physicist Stephen Hawking, Russian tycoon announce $100 million project to search for aliens
  8. China returns passport to artist Ai Weiwei, who plans London trip
  9. Greek leaders OK new reforms
  10. Mexican human rights commission question government investigation into missing students
  11. Defense secretary touts success of Kurdish fighters in war on ISIS