WASHINGTON (AP) – A military strike on Al Qaeda’s network in Yemen killed the deputy commander of the terrorist network’s cell in Abyan province, the Yemeni government said.
Embassy spokesman Mohammed Albasha identified the dead man as Mohammed Al Kazimi, but said suspected Al Qaeda leader Qasim al-Raymi, the intended target of this week’s raid, escaped.
Al-Raymi is one of 23 militants who broke out of a prison in San’a in February 2006 and is at large. Yemeni authorities have said they believe he was involved in the July 2007 suicide bombing that killed eight Spanish tourists and two Yemenis visiting a temple in central Yemen.
Christopher Boucek, a Yemen expert at the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said al-Raymi is deputy commander of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and has managed to escape several previous attempts by authorities to get him.
The U.S. provided firepower and other aid to Yemen for the strike this week against suspected Al Qaeda hide-outs and training sites within its borders, according to a New York Times report.
President Barack Obama approved the military and intelligence support, which came at the request of the Yemeni government. It was intended to help stem growing attacks against American and other foreign targets in Yemen, the newspaper said.
Albasha denied the U.S. launched missiles in the attack. Officials said at least 34 militants were killed in the Yemeni strike on Thursday in what was an unusually heavy assault as the Obama administration presses the unstable country for tougher action against Al Qaeda.
Witnesses put the number killed at over 60 and said the dead were mostly civilians, including women and children. They denied the target was an Al Qaeda stronghold, and one provincial official said only 10 militant suspects died. The United States has called on Yemen to take stronger action against Al Qaeda, whose fighters have increasingly found refuge in the country in the past year. Worries over the terrorist group’s growing presence are compounded by fears that Yemen could collapse into turmoil from its multiple conflicts and increasing poverty and become another Afghanistan, giving the militants even freer rein.