x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Drone strike misses Al Qa'eda suspect

The US drone attack in Yemen on Thursday was an attempt to kill Anwar Awlaki, an American-born militant suspected of involvement in multiple terrorist plots against the United States, but he eluded the missiles

SANA'A // A Yemeni security official confirmed that the US strike on an al Qa'eda target in Shabwa province on Thursday was intented to kill Anwar Awlaqi, a dual American-Yemini citizen who has been linked to terrorist attacks against the United States.

"The attack was planned to kill Anwar Awlaqi and his Saudi companion. At 3am in the morning in al-Jahwa village, 35km south of Ataq, a US missile missed its target three times on a vehicle Awlaqi was aboard," said the security official from Shabwa.

Two teenage brothers were killed in the strike. They were not the main targets, the source said, but died because they had exchanged vehicles with Mr Awlaqi. The brothers took Awlaqi's 1981 pickup and drove away. "This is where the drones went wrong and did not know that vehicles were exchanged and resulted in the wrong people dying," the official added.

The attack on Awlaqi's vehicle took place in a mountainous area between Nisab village and Abdan, 40km from Ataq, according to witnesses in Abdan.

The Yemeni government "was not involved. We heard the explosion after we saw drones flying our skies," said one witness.

More than 30 minutes after the strike, Yemni security forces showed up in Abdan to take away the bodies, but tribesmen at the scene refused to turn them over to the authorities.

"The bodies belong to the families and we will wait for an explanation from the Yemeni government," said Abdullah Abdul Rahman, an Adban resident.

US officials have confirmed to American media that the US conducted the attack.

"The US drone attack in Yemen was an attempt to kill Anwar Awlaki, an American-born militant suspected of involvement in multiple terrorist plots against the United States, but he eluded the missiles," a US official said.

This prompted Yemini's opposition leader, Ahmed Bahri, to say: "We fear that the Yemeni government will turn into a puppet government like the one in Pakistan today. This will not be acceptable and tribes will turn against the regime."

The Yemeni security official from Shabwa confirmed that the Yemeni government gave US authorities vital details on Awlaqi's whereabouts in Shabwa days ago. He insists that the Yemeni government was aware of the drone attack. "The Saleh government gave the Awlaqi whereabouts details to prove to the US that al Qa'eda is a threat and that President Saleh is its main ally in the war on terror," the official said.

Shabwa residents are outraged at the Yemeni government for allowing the US to conduct the attacks.

"The government will be held responsible for the two killed. They were teenagers and not terrorists," said a tribal leader in Abdan. "We will not hand over the bodies to the government until those behind this attack are held accountable. The government allowed foreign powers to attack our lands illegally."

Awlaqi is considered by many the next leader of al Qa'eda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). AQAP members do not number more than 300, but they are considered a threat to national security, said Abu Bakr Qirbi, Yemen's foreign minister. "The total number of AQAP members does not exceed a couple of hundreds. But they are still dangerous and must be fought," he said.

Shabwa is considered an AQAP stronghold. In another al Qa'eda base, Abyan, six Yemeni soldiers were killed and eight wounded last week when they were ambushed by suspected al Qa'eda militants.