Photo by Lyle G. Becker/U.S. Navy/Newsmakers.
U.S. airstrikes killed four suspected militant leaders with ties to Yemen’s al-Qaida branch in a missile attack on late Monday, unnamed officials told the Associated Press today.
Yemeni officials say that the most high-profile of the four was Abdel-Monem al-Fathani, who was believed to have been involved in the bombing of the USS Cole in October 2000. That attack killed 17 American sailors and injured 39 others.
There are somewhat conflicting reports about the exact death toll from the apparent drone attack. CNN, also citing unnamed officials, reports that a total of 9 militants with ties to al-Qaida were killed. That report, however, came in Tuesday's early morning hours before the AP story went live.
U.S. officials consider Al-Qaida in Yemen to be one of the most dangerous arms of the terrorist group, and has linked its members to several attacks against U.S. targets in the past, including an attempt by the "underwear bomber" to bring down an airplane over Detroit on Christmas two years ago. American drones have targeted, and killed, al-Qaida leaders in Yemen before, most notably Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born jihadist cleric, last year.
Security has generally collapsed in the Arab world’s poorest country since the start of the nearly year-old popular uprising against President Ali Abdullah Saleh, and al-Qaida’s Yemeni branch has increasingly exploited that security vacuum in the past months.