Yemen's air force killed at least 15 al-Qa'ida-linked fighters in the south including some of their leaders, a government source said today, while the UN refugee agency warned of a new wave of internally displaced people.
The air strikes late last night targeted Bayda, about 166 miles southeast of the capital Sanaa. Militants have expanded their operations in southern Yemen during months of turmoil that eventually unseated the president.
"A number of vehicles and cars used by al-Qa'ida were also destroyed," the source said. The militants were carrying equipment and weapons to launch attacks in Bayda governorate, he said.
Residents said the fighter planes had raided the western outskirts of Bayda town where the Ansar al-Sharia (Partisans of Islamic Law) militants, who have been fighting Yemen's security forces since mid-2011, had been based.
"Flames and smoke could be seen rising from the area," one resident told Reuters by telephone.
Ansar al-Sharia is inspired by al-Qa'ida but the precise nature of its ties to the global network are unclear, although the Yemeni government says they are one and the same.
Al Arabiya television earlier said yesterday's raid was believed to have been carried out by US planes.
Working with the Yemeni authorities, the United States has repeatedly used drones to attack militants from al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula, described by CIA Director David Petraeus last year as "the most dangerous regional node in the global jihad".
In late January, at least 12 al-Qa'ida militants, including four local leaders, were killed in a drone strike in southern Yemen, which a tribal chief said was a US attack.
The United States and Yemen's neighbour and world No. 1 oil exporter Saudi Arabia have been deeply worried about the expansion of al-Qa'ida in Yemen, where the group controls swathes of land near oil shipping routes through the Red Sea.