Armed Yemeni men walking in the streets of Loder in Abyan province
File photo shows armed Yemeni men walking in the streets of Loder in Abyan province. Overnight air raids struck an Al-Qaeda meeting and control post in southern Yemen, killing around 15 people including a long-hunted regional militant leader, tribal officials said on Tuesday. © - AFP/File
Armed Yemeni men walking in the streets of Loder in Abyan province
Last updated: January 31, 2012

Air raids on Al-Qaeda bases in Yemen kill 15

Air raids in southern Yemen overnight blasted Al-Qaeda targets and killed some 15 people, including a long-hunted militant leader, tribal and military sources said on Tuesday, claiming US planes were involved.

The four raids, which a local military official said were "carried out by US planes," hit targets in the Loder and Al-Wadih areas of Abyan province, a tribal chief said.

"We think they were carried out by American planes," the chief said.

Al-Qaeda militants control much of the province after taking advantage of the months of political turmoil that forced President Ali Abdullah Saleh to agree to step down next month in line with a Gulf-brokered exit deal.

In the capital, meanwhile, newly appointed Information Minister Ali Ahmed al-Amrani escaped an assassination attempt as he was leaving government headquarters following a cabinet meeting, an official told AFP.

And gunmen kidnapped four foreign aid workers -- a Colombian, a German, an Iraqi and a Palestinian -- along with their two Yemeni drivers, state news agency Saba said.

Three of the air raids targeted a school in which Al-Qaeda fighters and chiefs of a local militant network were meeting at around midnight (2100 GMT Monday), tribal sources said.

Around a dozen people were killed, among them regional Al-Qaeda leader Abdul Monem al-Fathani, who has long been sought by the Yemeni authorities.

The fourth strike hit an Al-Qaeda control post, killing three more people, they added.

Twelve wounded members of the extremist network were taken to two hospitals in the area, witnesses said.

"Two planes carried out these raids and continued to fly over the region through the night," another tribal chief told AFP.

Al-Qaeda militants responded to the raids on Tuesday by killing two soldiers on the outskirts of Rada, 130 kilometres (85 miles) southeast of Sanaa.

The town was seized by more than 1,000 of the Islamist fighters and held for nine days in mid-January, in what was seen as a significant advance towards the capital.

"Two soldiers were killed and several others were wounded in an attack on an army checkpoint by supporters of Tarek al-Dahab," brother-in-law of Yemeni-American extremist Anwar al-Awlaqi, who was killed in a US air strike last September, tribal chiefs said.

Dahab had led the fighters who bowed to tribal pressure and withdrew from Rada after authorities pledged to free 15 militants.

The deteriorating security situation in Yemen has raised alarm, including at the UN Security Council, about the growing presence of Al-Qaeda militants in lawless areas of the south and east.

The New York Times reported in June that the United States had stepped up its attacks on militant suspects in Yemen with armed drones and fighter jets.

The country has witnessed several attacks claimed by Al-Qaeda on embassies, tourist sites and oil installations.

The information minister's car was shot at "as he left government headquarters following a cabinet meeting," an official in Sanaa told AFP.

Amrani, a member of the opposition named to the post in December as part of the Gulf deal, was unhurt.

He had been a member of Saleh's General People's Congress who joined the opposition along with several other party members last March in protest over a deadly crackdown on anti-regime protests by the president's loyalists.

The attack is the first on government officials since a unity government was formed on December 7 under the power transfer deal that gave an equal number of seats to the GPC and the opposition.

Saleh is in the United States for medical treatment after being seriously wounded in a bombing at the presidential palace in Sanaa in June.

In November, after 10 months of bloody protests, he signed the deal by which he transferred constitutional powers to his deputy Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi who is the sole candidate for a promised February 21 presidential election.

In other developments, Saba said "an armed group in Wadi Ahjar," 50 kilometres (30 miles) northwest of Sanaa, "kidnapped six employees" of an international aid agency.

A UN employee in Sanaa confirmed the kidnapping, saying the six work for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Negotiations were under way to secure their release.

On Friday, a Norwegian aid worker was freed after having been abducted from a Sanaa street on January 14.

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