Yemen responds to Qaeda attacks with US air strikes
Overnight air strikes that residents said were carried out by US warplanes killed 23 suspected Al-Qaeda militants in mountains south of the Yemeni capital, security sources said on Saturday.
"Twenty-three Al-Qaeda fighters were killed in air raids launched late on Friday against their positions," one security source said.
A police source gave the same death toll from the air strikes in a mountainous area of Al-Bayda province.
The sources said the raids hit three villages west of the provincial capital, also called Al-Bayda -- Al-Makhnaq, Al-Dooqi and Al-Mamdud.
Residents said the raids were carried out by US aircraft, but those accounts could not be immediately verified.
Yemen is the ancestral homeland of slain Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and the jihadist network took advantage of a protracted anti-government uprising last year to seize large swathes of the south and east.
Washington has long made the country a major focus of its "war on terror".
Two of the raids, launched from around 9:00 pm (1800 GMT) and lasting around three hours in total, struck the homes of Ahmed and Ali al-Humaiqani, two residents of Wadi al-Makhnaq, witnesses said.
"An Al-Qaeda training camp can be found in Wadi al-Makhnaq," one local resident said.
"Several armed men arrived in multiple vehicles, along with two trucks loaded with weapons and ammunitions boxes, and attended Friday prayers in Wadi al-Makhnaq," said the resident, who declined to be identified.
Islamist militants, some of them Al-Qaeda loyalists, launched a major offensive in Al-Bayda province in January, that brought them just 200 kilometres (125 miles) from the capital, the closest they have reached.
That month, around 1,000 Al-Qaeda fighters swept the town of Rada and overran it within hours, holding it for nine days before withdrawing under pressure from Yemen's powerful tribal leaders.
Several families have fled Al-Makhnaq in recent days, seeking refuge in nearby villages, fearful of the increasing presence of Al-Qaeda fighters and loyalists near their own village, local sources said.
The jihadists' Yemen branch, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, exploited the decline in central government control that accompanied bloody nationwide protests last year that eventually forced veteran strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh from power.
In recent years, the US Defence Department has provided hundreds of millions of dollars worth of equipment and training designed to help Yemen's special forces counter Al-Qaeda.