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US steps up attacks on Al-Qaeda in Yemen

Image of buildings in ruin after airstrikes were carried out in Yemen [file photo]
Image of buildings in ruin after airstrikes were carried out in Yemen [file photo]

The United States has carried out airstrikes in Yemen targeting Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), two US officials said today, in what could be one of the first operations since a January raid by US commandos against the group that ended up killing dozens of civilians, including children.

The officials did not immediately provide further information. Residents and local officials in the coastal town of Shuqra in southern Yemen reported airstrikes in an adjacent mountain area where hundreds of Al-Qaeda militants are believed to be based.

They said they heard loud explosions early this morning in Al-Maraqisha, a rugged mountainous area where Al-Qaeda militants took refuge last year after they were driven out of Yemeni cities they had captured earlier.

There were no immediate details available on damages or casualties caused by the strikes.

Last month, residents reported foreign warships believed to belong to the US Navy shelling the mountains, but a Pentagon spokesman denied that any US ships were involved.

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The January raid, the first of its kind authorised by US President Donald Trump, was hailed as a success by the White House. Critics questioned the value of an operation which killed women and children, including an eight-year-old girl, as well as several militants and a Navy SEAL.

The US military was forced to withdraw a video by militants it initially released as evidence that the raid was a counterterrorism success. The video, showing a masked man encouraging people to build bombs, was many years old and already online.

Trump, citing information from his defence secretary, told Congress on Tuesday that the raid yielded valuable intelligence that would “lead to many more victories in the future.”

A senior US official said earlier that day the intelligence collected provided insight into AQAP’s explosives manufacturing, targeting, training and recruitment practices.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, stressed that such insight was particularly important given the threat that AQAP has long posed.

AQAP boasts one of the world’s most feared bomb makers, Ibrahim Hassan Al-Asiri, and it has been a persistent concern to the US government ever since a 2009 attempt to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas Day.

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The militant group has taken advantage of a civil war pitting the Iran-aligned Shia Houthis against the Saudi-backed government of the internationally recognised government of President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi to try to widen its control and influence in the impoverished Arabian Peninsula country, one of the poorest in the Middle East.

The war, which had drawn in a Saudi-led Arab alliance against the Houthis, has killed more than 10,000 people, according to United Nations officials.

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