SANA, Yemen — U.S. airstrikes targeting leaders from Yemen's active al-Qaida branch killed four suspected militants, including a man thought to be involved in the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole, officials said Tuesday.
Missiles struck a school and a car late Monday in the southern Abyan province, Yemeni security and military officials said. Large swaths of the province have fallen under the influence of al-Qaida as the militants exploit a security vacuum stemming from an uprising against President Ali Abdullah Saleh that began last year.
The United States considers the Yemen branch of al-Qaida to be one of the most dangerous arms of the terrorist group. U.S. aircraft have targeted al-Qaida leaders in Yemen before, notably killing Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen, last year. The United States rarely comments on its air activity in Yemen.
Al-Qaida in Yemen has been linked to several attacks targeting the United States, including one by "underwear bomber" Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who tried to bring down an airliner over Detroit on Christmas Day in 2009.
Tribal officials in the area said the latest strike hit the militants as they were holding a meeting at the school. Airstrikes also hit targets in the surrounding mountains and a car carrying people to the meeting between the towns of Lauder and Moudia. Another car on its way to the meeting got away, the officials said.
Yemeni security officials originally put the death toll at 15 people but later lowered that figure to four. They also said 12 militants were wounded in the strikes.
They said one of the suspected militants killed was involved in the bombing of the Cole, which killed 17 American sailors and injured 39 others. They identified him as Abdel-Monem al-Fathani. The attack on the U.S. destroyer was carried out while it was in the Yemeni port of Aden for refueling.