US drone kills five al-Qaida militants in Yemen

SANAA, Yemen (AP) — A U.S. drone strike killed five al-Qaida-linked militants in southern Yemen on Wednesday, Yemeni officials said.

An official, who spoke on condition of anonymity according to military rules, said the dawn strike targeted militant hideouts in the al-Arqoub area east of Zinjibar, capital of Abyan province. Islamic radicals seized control of Zinjibar in May, taking advantage of a wider uprising against President Ali Abdullah Saleh to establish a militant-ruled enclave.

Government forces and mutinous military units who oppose each other but consider al-Qaida the greater enemy have fought their way back into the city, but continue to suffer casualties to militant attacks.

U.S. drones regularly hit targets in Yemen. American-born al-Qaida propagandist Anwar al-Awlaki was killed by a drone on Sept. 30 in the north of the country in what American officials said was a major blow to the militant organization.

Officials said that Wednesday’s drone strike in Abyan killed 5 and injured seven.

Yemeni officials also reported other clashes around Abyan province in the past two days that killed nine people. The office of Vice President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi said that three foreigners, two Pakistanis and a Chechen, were killed in Abyan on Tuesday. Foreign fighters commonly turn up in al-Qaida’s ranks in Yemen and other countries.

Military officials said two Yemeni soldiers were killed Tuesday by a roadside bomb and two others in fighting with al-Qaida militants, also east of Zinjibar. A second roadside bomb detonated by remote control killed two civilian anti-al-Qaida activists Wednesday near a checkpoint in the town of Lawder northeast of Zinjibar, said Jihad Hafeez, a member of an anti-al-Qaida coordinating committee said.

Yemen, an impoverished Arab with a weak central government, has been the center of multiple uprisings since February, when President Saleh cracked down on protesters challenging his 33-year rule in the country’s chapter of the Arab Spring.

Yemen is believed by U.S. and other intelligence agencies to be a global planning and training center for al-Qaida, but Yemeni officials rarely acknowledge the presence of foreigners fighting alongside homegrown militants.

In another area of southern Yemen, government forces have been battling for weeks with armed anti-Saleh tribesmen around the city of Taiz. On Tuesday and Wednesday, government forces heavily shelled Taiz, leaving eight civilians dead , residents said.

Opposition activist Bushra al-Maqtari said that mortar shells fired by Republican Guard units led by Saleh’s son Ahmed fell on five city districts, damaging 120 houses and shops.

Al-Maqtari said that a freelance photographer named Abdel-Hakim al-Nour was among those killed in Taiz, and that six children and 10 women were among the wounded. She said that the government cut the city’s electricity and blocked all the roads out, preventing residents from fleeing.

The city’s al-Rawdha hospital appealed to residents to give blood, and called to on pharmaceutical firms across the country to send medicine and other supplies.

Protest organizers meanwhile said that thousands had turned out for demonstrations in 17 provinces demanding Saleh’s ouster and denouncing the fighting in Taiz. Large anti-government rallies occur daily in Yemen.

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