Yemeni armed forces have killed Said al-Shehri, described as the second-in-command of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), government officials said.
Yemen's army website said on Monday that Shehri, a Saudi national, was killed, along with six other fighters, in a military operation in the remote Hadramawt province in eastern Yemen.
"The Saudi terrorist Said al-Shehri, the second man in al-Qaeda, was killed in a quality operation by the armed forces in Hadramawt," the 26sep.net news website reported.
"Six other terrorist elements accompanying him were also killed," the army site added quoting what it said was a "high-ranking source," without mentioning when the operation took place.
AQAP is described by Washington as the most dangerous and deadliest wing of al-Qaeda.
US drones target AQAP
The US has used unmanned drones to target the group, which has planned attacks on international targets including airliners.
A Yemeni security source told the Reuters news agency that Shehri was killed in an operation last Wednesday which was thought to have been carried out by a US drone, rather than the Yemeni military.
The source said another Saudi and an Iraqi national were among the others killed.
Shehri is a former inmate of the US detention facility at Guantanamo Bay who was released to Saudi Arabia in 2007 and put through a Saudi rehabilitation programme for fighters.
Yemen's government is trying to re-establish order after an uprising pushed out veteran ruler Ali Abdullah Saleh in February, but faces threats from armed fighters, southern secessionists and a Shia rebel movement in the north.
The protests and factional fighting have allowed al-Qaeda's regional wing to seize swathes of south Yemen, and Shia Muslim Houthi rebels to carve out their own domain in the north.
The lawlessness has alarmed the US and Yemen's much bigger neighbour Saudi Arabia, the top world oil exporter, which view the impoverished state as a new front line in their war on al-Qaeda and its affiliates.
Washington, which has pursued a campaign of assassination by drone and missile against suspected al-Qaeda members, backed a military offensive in May to recapture areas of Abyan province. But fighters have struck back with a series of bombings and assassinations.
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|Timothy V. Gatto|