Al-Qaeda chief in Yemen killed by US drone strike

Al-Qaeda chief in Yemen killed by US drone strike
Jalal Belaida, head of Al-Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula, has been killed in south Yemen in a what is believed to be a US drone strike, reports his family.
3 min read
04 February, 2016
The United States is the only country known to operate armed drones over Yemen [AFP]

A prominent leader of al-Qaeda's branch in war-torn Yemen has been killed in what is believed to have been an airstrike carried out by a US drone, a family member has revealed.

Jalal Belaidi, a senior commander of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), was killed along with two guards in the Maraqesha area of Abyan province, the relative said.

The United States is the only country known to operate armed drones over Yemen, home to AQAP, considered by Washington as al-Qaeda's most dangerous franchise.

A tribal source confirmed the death of Belaidi, also known as Abu Hamza [not to be confused with the formerly UK-based "radical cleric" of the same name], following contact with AQAP militants in the area.

Belaidi served in the past as the local leader of al-Qaeda in Zinjibar, the capital of his home province, Abyan, but is said to have climbed the ranks of the jihadist group to became a top military commander.

The US has kept up strikes on armed groups during months of fighting between pro-government forces and Iran-backed Houthi rebels who control the capital.

Late on Wednesday, a drone strike killed six suspected members of AQAP in nearby Shabwa province, a security official said.

Jihadists, including AQAP and the Islamic State group, have gained ground in the south, with AQAP fighters seizing the town of Azzan in Shabwa earlier this week.

Al-Qaeda militants control Zinjibar and the nearby town of Jaar. They move freely between Hadramawt, Shabwa and Abyan.

Al-Qaeda militants control Abyan's provincial capital, Zinjibar, and the nearby town of Jaar

Lahj provincial police chief Colonel Adel al-Halemi was lightly wounded in a suicide bomb attack on his convoy in the port city of Aden late on Wednesday.

A source close to Halemi told The New Arab that the bombing targeted one of the vehicles in the colonel's convoy after he was on his way back to his house in the eastern part of al-Mimdara, an area in the Sheikh Othman district of Aden.

Al-Qaeda's Yemeni branch seized another town on Monday, setting up checkpoints at its entrances and laying siege to government buildings before dawn after days of fighting with southern separatists, officials said. 

The capture of Azzan marks the latest advance for AQAP, which has exploited the chaos of Yemen's civil war to expand its reach. The security officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to brief reporters.   

The group captured the southern port city of Mukalla last year and has seized a number of towns as it has moved west toward Yemen's second city of Aden, where the internationally backed government is now based.