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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 September 2018

Al Qaeda commander killed by US drone strike in Yemen

Meanwhile focus returns to Houthi-controlled port of Hodeidah after peace talks postponed

Yemeni government forces take part in military operations on Houthi positions outside Hodeidah on September 7, 2018. EPA
Yemeni government forces take part in military operations on Houthi positions outside Hodeidah on September 7, 2018. EPA

An Al Qaeda militant killed by a suspected United States drone strike in southern Yemen on Sunday reportedly once served as the right-hand man of the terror group’s former leader in the country who died in a drone strike in 2016.

A missile believed to have been fired by an American drone killed four members of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (Aqap) in a mountainous area in the Ahwar district of Abyan province, a security source said.

Among them was a top field commander named Ali Shanna, whose nom de guerre was Sameh Al Marmi, the officer told The National. He was believed to have been the right-hand man of Jalal Baleedi, Aqap’s top commander in Yemen before he was killed in 2016 by a US drone strike.

"They were killed in the tribal area of Khabar Al Marakisha,” the officer told The National, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Aqap has long had a presence in Abyan, with fighters seizing control of most of the province and declaring the region an “Al Qaeda emirate” in 2011. Government forces later retook control of major centres, but the militants survived in remote areas, returning in 2016 to seize provincial towns.

Since forces loyal to President Adrabu Mansur Hadi withdrew from Abyan in 2016, UAE-backed separatist Southern Movement forces have been fighting Aqap alone. Last year they launched a major operation targeting militant hideouts in the mountains of Abyan.

"The UAE-backed Southern security belt forces have inflicted crushing blows on the terrorists, but some tribes still shelter Aqap sleeper cells in Ahwar and Al Mahfed in Abyan,” the source said. “But we’re tracking them down.”

The US said on August 30 that it had carried out six raids targeting Al Qaeda militants in Yemen since May.

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Security forces in Lahj province, which borders Abyan, on Monday seized a car loaded with explosives on Monday and arrested one of the four men in the vehicle, all of whom were wearing abayas.

Lt Mohammed Al Samti, aide to the security director for Lahj, said the car was travelling towards Aden and sped through a checkpoint when asked to stop.

Security forces chased the car, which overturned, killing one of the occupants. Two others managed to escape and the fourth man was arrested, Lt Al Samti said.

He said the arrested man was from Lawder district in Abyan.

Meanwhile, since peace talks in Geneva were postponed over the weekend following the absence of the Houthi delegation, focus has again turned to rebel-controlled Hodeidah, with pro-government forces eager to retake the strategic port.

Those forces have seized a point called Kilo 10 outside of Hodeidah en route to the the junction 16 kilometres east of the city where the southern road from Taizz joins the road to Sanaa.

For months, pro-government fighters have been struggling to take the strategic route linking the Houthi-held capital Sanaa with the west coast port and the south.

"It is going to cause immediate death for the rebels if the Al Amalikah forces succeed in cutting it,” a Hodeidah civic leader told The National in June.

Yemeni forces say they have left open safe routes for civilians to escape the areas around Kilo 10 and Kilo 16.

South of Hodeidah, pro-government forces repelled a Houthi attack north of Al Duraihimi district on Sunday night.

Facing a potential assault on Hodeidah, Houthi leader Mohammed Ali Al Houthi has reportedly been visiting his tribal support base north of Sanaa trying to recruit fighters to defend the port, a source in Sanaa told The National.

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