Reporting from Cairo — One of Al Qaeda's top military strategists in Yemen was reportedly killed Friday along with five other militants in airstrikes targeting two vehicles in the country's northeastern mountains, according to officials and news agencies.
The operation by the Yemeni air force was the latest in a string of attacks on Al Qaeda strongholds and the terrorist network's key operatives. The government, which has been guided by U.S. intelligence in the past, has yet to capture or kill the group's two leaders, but Friday's strikes were an indication that Al Qaeda faces increasing pressure.
The official Saba news agency reported that Qasim Raymi, believed to be a top Al Qaeda military commander, was killed in an attack in a region between Saada and Jawf provinces. The report could not be independently confirmed but, if true, it would be a blow to Al Qaeda's operations. Raymi, who fought in Afghanistan and escaped from a Yemeni prison in 2006, became one of the principal architects of an alliance of mostly Yemeni and Saudi radicals who built Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
Saba described Raymi as the network's "No. 3 leader." He has been considered by intelligence agencies to be a strategist and hardened fighter.
Raymi dodged an airstrike in December that killed more than 30 militants. He was "part of a 10-man cell responsible for the [July 2007] suicide bombing in Marib province, east Yemen, which killed eight Spanish tourists and two Yemeni drivers," Saba reported.
Two other top Al Qaeda figures were also reported killed in Friday's strike: Abu Ayman, the alias for an Egyptian militant who is believed to have spent time in Afghanistan, and Aidh Shabwani, the chief of the group's operations in Marib. Reuters news agency quoted an unnamed government official as saying both men had died.
The raid was the latest in a series of government military missions since the failed Christmas Day bombing of a Northwest Airlines plane about to land in Detroit. The Yemeni branch of Al Qaeda claimed it was behind a Nigerian student's alleged attempt to detonate explosives hidden in his underwear. The incident focused Western attention on Yemen, which in recent years has attracted Al Qaeda fighters from Afghanistan and Iraq.
Yemen's clerics and sheiks have threatened global jihad if U.S. or other foreign military forces intervene to battle Al Qaeda. One of the nation's leading religious voices, Sheik Abdul Majeed Zindani, who Washington claims has ties to Osama bin Laden, joined 150 other clerics and scholars in signing a statement that warned:
"If any foreign country insists on aggression and the invasion of the country or interference, in a military or security way, Muslim sons are duty bound to carry out jihad and fight the aggressors."
President Obama has announced that the United States does not plan to send ground forces to Yemen, which is also facing a civil war in the north and a separatist movement in the south.