A Yemeni official says 12 suspected al-Qaida militants have been killed in the Arab country in three separate U.S. drone strikes Thursday.
The Associated Press quotes the official as saying that the first drone attack killed six alleged militants in central Marib province, while the second and third killed six more in Hadramaut province.
The strikes come a day after Yemen said it had foiled an al-Qaida plot to blow up oil pipelines and seize certain cities, including Mukalla, a key oil port and the provincial capital of Hadramaut. It also follows U.S. State Department warnings for Americans to leave Yemen immediately and the closure of 19 U.S. embassies and consulates triggered by the intercept of a message between al-Qaida chief Ayman al-Zawahiri and a Yemen-based deputy in which the two reportedly discussed a major terrorist attack.
Since July 27, drone attacks have killed 31 suspected militants, according to an AP count provided by Yemeni security officials.
The Washington Post reports that Yemen-based al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, has been trying to expand into Hadramaut, which borders Saudi Arabia on the north and is the ancestral homeland of Osama bin Laden.
"After the ousting of al-Qaeda from Abyan and the fleeing of the armed militants to different areas, it seems that al-Qaeda has shifted its attention toward Hadramaut," Ali Alsarari, a political adviser to Yemen's prime minister, Mohammed Basindwa, is quoted by the Post as saying.
"They control some areas and are trying to do what they did in Abyan," he said, referring to AQAP's seizure of the province in 2011.