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Drones Kill Top Al Qaeda Chief in South Yemen - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Suspected Al-Qaeda militants stand behind bars during a hearing at the appeals court in the Yemeni capital Sanaa (AFP Photo/Mohammed Huwais)

Suspected Al-Qaeda militants stand behind bars during a hearing at the appeals court in the Yemeni capital Sanaa (AFP Photo/Mohammed Huwais)

Two air strikes suspected to have been carried by U.S. drone killed 12 militants overnight in southern Yemen, residents said on Thursday, including a major al Qaeda commander.

Jalal Baleedi, alias Abu Hamza, a top commander of Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, was likely to be the new leader of Islamic State in Yemen. He was killed along with two guards in the air strike on the Maraqesha area of Abyan province, a relative said.

The first strike targeted six men in a car travelling in al Rawda city in Shabwa province, a remote desert area where al Qaeda militants are believed to be operating. The province has been severally targeted by drone strikes this year.

The second strike hit militants in their car in the coastal Abyan province, killing six occupants including Baleedi.

Amidst the ravaging civil war in Yemen and the military intervention by Gulf Arab states, the Al Qaeda commander Baleedi is believed to have recently defected from Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) to become the chief of ISIS Yemen branch.

AQAP has made the most from the fighting between Houthi militiamen against forces loyal to President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi to seize territory and operate more openly.

The group has claimed responsibility for several thwarted attacks on U.S.-bound airliners I addition to the assault on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in January 2015.

Yet AQAP, which is deemed as the deadliest branch of al Qaeda in the world, has faced ideological competition from ISIS, which has lately been targeting Shi’ite Muslim mosques and government targets.

The United States has staged a drone campaign against the militants, along with near-daily air strikes by Gulf Arab coalition, which intervened in the war last March to restore Yemeni president Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi’s government.

Suspected U.S. drone strikes, which normally use Hellfire missiles, have killed some of AQAP’s top leaders, including its chief Nasser al-Wuhayshi last June.

Asharq Al-Awsat English

Asharq Al-Awsat English

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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