- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Seven suspected al Qaeda militants were killed Wednesday by a drone strike in southern Yemen, the latest in a significant uptick of counterterrorist strikes reportedly being carried out in the Mideast nation by the Obama administration.

Yemen’s defense ministry said in a statement that the militants were killed by an air raid, but news reports said the strike was suspected to have been carried out by the U.S., the only nation operating drones over Yemen, which borders Saudi Arabia, a close U.S. ally.

A tribal source told Agence France-Presse on Wednesday that the militants were hit by an aerial strike while gathered “‘under a group of trees” in the village of Azzan in the Yemen’s southern province of Shabwa.

Yemen’s defense ministry said “those killed were planning to carry out a terrorist attack in Azzan using a bomb-laden vehicle,” according to the AFP report, which noted that drone strikes against al Qaeda suspects in the nation have intensified this month, with at least 20 militants killed by such strikes on Nov. 3.

U.S. intelligence officials say Yemen is the home base of the extremist Sunni Muslim group known as al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) — an outfit President Obama described last year as the al Qaeda affiliate “most active in plotting against” the U.S. homeland.

“While none of AQAP’s efforts approach the scale of 9/11, they have continued to plot acts of terror, like the attempt to blow up an airplane on Christmas Day in 2009,” Mr. Obama said during a major speech on terrorism at the National Defense University in May 2013.

Recent months have brought a surge in violence between AQAP militants and a militant Shiite Muslim group in Yemen known as the Houthis.

The Shiite group seized control of Yemen’s capital city, Sana’a, in September and have since pushed south into territory where AQAP is believed to be most active.

In late-October, a U.S. drone strike killed three suspected AQAP members near a battlefront between the al Qaeda-aligned group and the Shiite Houthi group, according to Reuters.

The news agency maintained that a series of earlier drone strikes, in April, had killed roughly 65 militants in Yemen’s southern and central provinces, with the Yemeni army following up with an air and ground offensive to dislodge AQAP fighters from the area.

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