Yemeni warplane bombs army position
30 soldiers of renegade unit killed in strike
SANA, Yemen - A government warplane bombed an army position in southern Yemen, killing at least 30 soldiers involved in months of intense battles against Al Qaeda members, officials said yesterday.
The strike appeared to be a mistake, but the soldiers hit were from a unit that had defected to side with protesters seeking the president’s ouster in Yemen’s chapter of the Arab Spring, raising questions about whether the bombing might have been intentional.
Yemen’s government and the renegade military units both consider Yemen’s Al Qaeda branch an enemy. The president’s political opponents, however, accuse him of allowing the Islamic militants to seize control of several towns in southern Yemen earlier this year in a bid to spark fears in the West that without him in power, Al Qaeda would take over.
The airstrike, which took place on Saturday evening in Abyan Province, targeted an abandoned school used as a shelter by soldiers of the army’s 119th Brigade who were battling the Al Qaeda fighters, military and medical officials said. The brigade is thought to have received significant support from the US military to enable it to fight the militants in the south more effectively.
The school is just east of Abyan’s provincial capital, Zinjibar, seized in May by Islamist militants taking advantage of Yemen’s political turmoil to expand their reach. In recent days, fighting in the area has been heavy; 28 soldiers and militants were killed there Saturday.
After the airstrike, militants inspecting the site shot and killed soldiers who were wounded by the bombing, the military officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.
Yemen’s turmoil is of deep concern to the United States and Europe in large part because of the possibility that Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula will benefit from it and carve out an even bigger haven from which to plot attacks on the West.
The group was behind several nearly successful strikes on US targets, including the failed attempt in 2009 to blow up a Detroit-bound jetliner with explosives sewn into the underwear of a would-be suicide bomber.
On Friday, a US drone strike in Yemen killed US-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, a key Al Qaeda figure, and Samir Khan, a Pakistani-American who produced the terrorist group’s English-language Web magazine, Inspire.
On the same day, two US officials said intelligence had indicated that the top Al Qaeda bomb maker in Yemen also died in the strike - Ibrahim al-Asiri, who was linked to the bomb hidden in the underwear of the Nigerian man accused of trying to blow up the plane over Detroit on Christmas Day 2009.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because Asiri’s death had not officially been confirmed.
In Washington yesterday, a top Yemeni official said Asiri was not killed in the strike. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.
Tribal elders, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the convoy targeted in the strike may have included a third car that escaped.