A drone strike near the southern Yemeni city of Jaar killed at least seven Al-Qaeda suspects, including a local leader, at dawn Thursday, an official in the restive region told AFP.
"A drone, likely American, fired several rockets at a group of Al-Qaeda members northwest of Jaar, killing all of them," said the official, adding that seven bodies had so far been recovered.
The United States is the only country that operates drones in the region.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that "several bodies" had been identified, including one belonging to Nader Al-Shadadi, Al-Qaeda's leader in Jaar.
According to the official, Al-Qaeda militants have been trying to position themselves near Yemen's main southern cities to carry out operations against the army and the popular resistance committees — local pro-army militias.
Witnesses said, meanwhile, that hundreds of Jaar's residents, both men and women, gathered in front of the headquarters of the resistance committees in Jaar and fired in the air to celebrate Shadadi's death. One resident told AFP that Shadadi, a Jaar resident himself, "had brought great harm to our city and he is responsible for all the devastation and the war" in the area.
In May, the army launched an all-out offensive against Al-Qaeda in the southern of province of Abyan, forcing the group to retreat from major strongholds, including Jaar and Abyan's capital Zinjibar.
The campaign was backed by US drones which in recent months have been deployed in strikes against Al-Qaeda targets in the south and east of the country. Thursday's strike was the second drone attack this month. On 4 October, a drone blasted two cars carrying suspected Al-Qaeda gunmen in the southern province of Shabwa, killing five of them.
Al-Qaeda took advantage of the weakness of Yemen's central government during a national uprising last year against then President Ali Abdullah Saleh, seizing large swathes of territory across the south.
But after the month-long offensive, most militants fled to the more lawless desert regions of the east. Though weakened, the militants still launch hit-and-run attacks on government and civilian targets throughout the country. They are also increasingly targeting members of local militias that fought to oust the militants from towns and cities in the south.
On Tuesday, Al-Qaeda militants, one of them a suicide bomber, killed six members of the resistance committees and wounded eight others in an attack on a checkpoint in the country's south.