Three U.S. drone strikes killed a total of 12 suspected al-Qaida terrorists Thursday, a Yemeni military official said, raising to eight the number of attacks in less than two weeks as the Arab nation is on high alert against terrorism.
The uptick in drone strikes signals that the Obama administration is stepping up its efforts to target Yemen’s al-Qaida offshoot, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, amid fears of attacks after the interception of a message between its leader and the global leader of the terror network.
Since July 27, drone attacks have killed 34 suspected terrorists, according to an Associated Press count provided by Yemeni security officials.
The Yemeni military official said the first drone attack killed six alleged terrorists in central Marib province, while the second killed three more in the al-Ayoon area of Hadramawt province in the south. The third killed three others in the al-Qutn area of Hadramawt, he said. All the airstrikes targeted cars, added the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.
The high alert in Yemen came after authorities revealed an al-Qaida plot to target foreign embassies and international shipping lanes in the Red Sea.
The U.S. and Britain evacuated diplomatic staff this week after learning of a threatened attack that prompted Washington to close 19 diplomatic posts in the Middle East and Africa temporarily.
While the United States acknowledges its drone program in Yemen, it does not confirm individual strikes or release information on how many have been carried out.
The program is run by the Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations Command and the CIA, with the military flying its drones out of Djibouti, and the CIA out of a base in Saudi Arabia.
In the capital of Sanaa, an Associated Press reporter said a drone buzzed overhead for hours Wednesday and early Thursday, leaving residents anxiously wondering about its target and whether al-Qaida terrorists were about to strike in the city.