'US air' strikes kill seven 'Qaeda militants' in Yemen. (Photo/file: Reuters)
Apparent US air strikes killed seven suspected Al-Qaeda militants in southern Yemen, one of them the media chief of the jihadist network's regional affiliate, a local official said on Saturday.
The Yemeni defence ministry confirmed the deaths but insisted that Friday evening's strikes in Shabwa province, a militant stronghold east of the main southern city of Aden, were carried out by its own forces.
"Three strikes, apparently American, which were launched against positions held by Al-Qaeda militants in Azzan, one of the group's bastions, killed seven of them, including the Egyptian, Ibrahim al-Banna'a," the local official said.
One of the strikes hit a mosque near the apparent primary target of the strike, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
A number of suspected militants were also wounded and were taken to Azzan hospital, which is under the control of the militants, he added.
The Yemeni defence ministry confirmed that Banna'a was among seven suspected Qaeda militants killed, adding that he was wanted "internationally" for "planning attacks both inside and outside Yemen."
Banna'a was "in charge of the media arm of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula" and was one of the group's "most dangerous operatives," the ministry added.
Yemen routinely denies that the United States carries out offensive operations on its territory, insisting that it plays a purely logistic and intelligence role in support of Yemen's own counter-terror operations.
But last month, The Washington Post said the United States was building an array of secret new drone bases to strike Al-Qaeda targets in Yemen and Somalia.
On Monday, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula confirmed the death of US-born jihadist cleric Anwar al-Awlaqi in a US air strike on September 30.
The group vowed to exact revenge for the loss of Awlaqi in the raid, which US President Barack Obama hailed as a "major blow" to Al-Qaeda worldwide.
US intelligence officials believed Awlaqi was linked to a US army major charged with shooting dead 13 people in Fort Hood, Texas, and to a Nigerian student accused of trying to blow up a US airliner on December 25, 2009.
He was also believed to be the leader of external operations of AQAP in Yemen.
AQAP has taken advantage of 10 months of deadly protests against veteran President Ali Abdullah Saleh to bolster its presence not only in Shabwa, but also in adjacent Marib and Abyan.