At least seven suspected al-Qaeda fighters, including two senior operatives, have been killed in air raids in south Yemen, officials say.
The officials said Thursday's air raids targeted the town of Jaar and northeast of Zinjibar, the provincial capital of Abyan, where the fighters were operating.
One of those killed was in charge of armament, known by his nickname al-Galadi, Yemeni officials said.
He was originally from another province, Marib, and his family arrived later in the day in Jaar for his burial, the officials said. The other four fighters killed were not immediately identified.
The second air raid hit in Shaqra, northeast of Zinjbar, killing two fighters, the Yemeni officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity as they were not authorised to speak to the media.
They said one of those killed was al-Qaeda's second-in-command for Lawder, a town further north that was controlled by the group last year until its residents drove the fighters out.
Setback for al-Qaeda
The operatives have since been trying to stage a comeback in Lawder.
Earlier this week, a Yemeni member of al-Qaeda, who was convicted for his role in the 2000 bombing of a US warship, was killed along with his colleague in an air strike in the southern province of Shabwa. Fahd al-Qasaa and Fahed Salem al-Akdam were travelling in their car.
Residents and a spokesman for the al-Qaeda-linked Ansar al-Sharia group said the attack was carried out by a drone in the Wadi Rafad valley in the country's south.
The US has usually used drones to strike al-Qaeda in Yemen. Yemeni officials said one of Thursday's raids was carried out by a drone but provided no details on the other.
The attacks could be another setback for al-Qaeda, coming just days after details emerged about a Saudi mole within the network who reportedly provided information allowing the CIA to target a key leader of Yemen's terror branch.
There was no immediate comment from the US on whether it was behind the attacks. The two areas hit are part of large swaths of territory in the south that have been held by al-Qaeda for a year.
The US and Yemen have resumed co-operation in the fight against al-Qaeda following a year-long hiatus brought on by anti-government protests that led to the unravelling of Ali Abdullah Saleh's presidency.
Al-Qaeda had taken advantage of Yemen's political turmoil to capture territory and plot attacks against US targets.
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|William A. Cook|