SANAA, YEMEN — Yemen said Sunday that it killed one of the country’s most wanted al-Qaida militants, hours after military officials said anti-terrorism units supported by army troops and U.S. drones launched an attack against hideouts of the group in the mountainous Arhab region north of Sanaa, leaving five militants and six soldiers killed.
The statement by the defense ministry didn’t provide details on where or when Saleh al-Tays was killed. His name is on the list of the country’s list of 25 most wanted terrorists issued last year.
The military has targeted Al-Tays with operations and airstrikes before. He had been suspected to have been killed before in targeted attacks, including in U.S. drone strikes in 2013, 2008 and 2009.
The statement said al-Tays was involved in the assassination of a Yemeni politician earlier this year, and in killing foreign diplomats and Yemeni civilians. It did not give details.
Al-Tays is one of 25 on a list of wanted terrorists issued by the government in August 2013 on suspicion they were plotting to attack foreign offices and organizations, as well as Yemeni government installations and police and military. The statement listed some allegedly senior figures in the branch, known as Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, including Saudi nationals Ibrahim Mohammed el-Rubaish, who was released from the U.S.’s Guantanamo Bay facility in 2006, and Ibrahim Hassan el-Assiri.
Washington considers the al-Qaida branch in Yemen among the terror network’s most dangerous, and has launched drone strikes against its top figures in Yemen.
Military officials said earlier that an attack in Arhab region targeted militants who had fled from Shabwa and Abyan provinces, where the army launched a big offensive earlier this month causing them heavy losses and forcing others to flee.
On Saturday night, Yemeni warplanes launched three airstrikes targeting suspected militants in cars the same area, killing two, the officials said.
The officials also said that a U.S. drone strike at dawn Sunday killed three suspected al-Qaida militants hiding in the Uther village in the same area, prompting others to flee to the nearby village of Wasil.
With U.S. logistic support, Yemeni army special forces attacked Wasil and fought a fierce battle with the fleeing militants which lasted for over an hour, resulting in the arrest of 12 militants, including eight Saudis. The clashes left six soldiers dead, the officials said.
The Arhab area is a bastion for the country’s largest opposition Islamist Islah party which advocates for the application of Islamic laws in the country.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to brief the media.