SANAA/ADEN  - U.S. drone attacks killed at least 25 al Qaeda-linked fighters including one of their leaders while a Yemeni air force raid killed 20 more in the south, sources said on Saturday, in the biggest airstrikes since Yemen’s new president took office.
Militants have expanded their operations in southern Yemen during months of turmoil which paralyzed the country and eventually unseated former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was replaced in a February vote by Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
Local residents in Jaar, a southern town seized by militants in March last year, said Yemen’s air force had killed 20 al Qaeda-linked fighters at a military base, also destroying weapons and military equipment.
Last week, the fighters had seized the base from the government and confiscated weaponry and military equipment.
However, a spokesman for Ansar al-Sharia (Partisans of Islamic Law) denied its fighters were killed in the raid.
“There was nobody killed in the air strike,” he told Reuters by phone.In a separate incident, a government source said the number of militants killed in an air strike launched late on Friday in Bayda, about 267 km (166 miles) southeast of the capital Sanaa, had risen to 25. He said Hadaar al-Homaiqani, a local al Qaeda leader, was among the Islamist fighters killed.
Tribal sources said the Bayda attacks were carried out by U.S. drone airplanes, but this was not possible to independently confirm. The United States, working with the Yemeni authorities, has repeatedly used drones to attack militants.