US air strikes kill 14 Al Qaeda suspects in Yemen

US air strikes kill 14 suspected Al Qaeda members in southern Yemen, medics, residents say

Photo by: Reuters (Archive)
Photo by: Reuters (Archive)

An air strike hits a military site controlled by Houthis in Yemen's capital Sanaa May 12, 2015.

Air strikes killed 14 men suspected of belonging to Al Qaeda in southern Yemen on Sunday, medics and local residents said, in one of the largest US-led assaults on the group since a civil war broke out a year ago.

The air strikes took place as fresh signs emerged that tensions were easing between the Iran-allied Houthis, who control most of northern Yemen, and Saudi-led forces after a year of fighting that has killed more than 6,200 people.

Residents in southern Yemen said an aircraft bombed buildings used by Al Qaeda in the southern coastal Abyan province and destroyed a government intelligence headquarters in the provincial capital Zinjibar that the militants had captured and were using as a base. Medics said six people were killed.

The US marine corp's version of Lockheed Martin's F-35 fighter jet. (Reuters Archive)

Earlier on Sunday a suspected US drone attack killed eight militants gathered in courtyards in the villages of al Hudhn and Naqeel al Hayala in Abyan, residents told Reuters by phone.

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has taken advantage of a war pitting the Houthis against forces loyal to exiled President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi to seize territory and operate more openly.

The group has carried out attacks against the Yemeni state for years, plotted to blow up US-bound airliners and claimed responsibility for the January 2015 attack in Paris on the French magazine Charlie Hebdo that killed 12 people.

The United States has kept up a drone campaign against the militants, although it evacuated the last of its military and intelligence personnel from Yemen in March last year. Its attacks have killed some of AQAP's top leaders, including its chief, Nasser al-Wuhayshi, who was struck by a drone in June.

Last week, US war planes killed at least 50 people and wounded 30 more in an attack on an Al Qaeda training camp in the mountains of southern Yemen.

Yemeni army soldiers fire rockets at mountainous positions of al Qaeda militants Mayfaa, in the southeastern province of Shabwa May 4, 2014 in this handout photo provided by Yemen's defence ministry. (AP Archive)

Al Qaeda's local wing, known as Ansar al Sharia, on Sunday acknowledged the March 22 attack, saying the recruits were being trained to fight Houthis who control most of northern Yemen.

"We note that the brigade which was struck by the Americans ... was preparing to join the mujahideen assigned to liberate al Bayda province ... but it appears that the Americans and their agents were not pleased with that," the group said in a rare statement posted on Twitter.

A coalition led by Saudi-Arabia has been trying to shore up Hadi, who was ousted by the Houthis last year.

Al Qaeda militants, many of whom are drawn from Sunni tribes in south and eastern Yemen, have also been involved in the fighting against the Houthis, who hail from the Zaydi branch of Shiite Islam, regarded by Al Qaeda as heretics.

The United States has acknowledged using drones but declines to comment on specific attacks.

The United Nations, trying to build on a lull in fighting along the Saudi-Yemeni border, said this week that the warring parties had agreed to a cessation of hostilities starting at midnight on April 10 followed by peace talks in Kuwait from April 18 as part of a fresh push to end the crisis following two rounds of failed talks last year.

Houthi rebels. (Reuters Archive)

The border truce came about after a prisoner swap between Saudi Arabia and the Houthis.

In a further sign of the easing of tensions between the two sides, a Houthi spokesman, Mohammed Abdul Salam, said on Sunday that his group had, for a second time, exchanged prisoners with Saudi Arabia.

"A first step of understanding and respect for the humanitarian aspect [of the conflict] was the exchange of prisoners today," Abdul Salam said in a statement posted on Facebook, adding that nine Saudi soldiers had been freed for 100 of its members captured inside Yemen.

A spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition was not immediately available to comment on the report. 

TRTWorld, Reuters