Drone strikes kill 5 suspected al Qaeda fighters in Yemen, officials say

The strikes come amid recent anti-U.S. protests across the Middle East.

Story highlights

  • The strikes targeted militants in Shabwa province, officials say
  • Other militants are still hiding in the area, one official says
  • The U.S. considers al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula one of the most dangerous groups

Three U.S. drone strikes killed five suspected al Qaeda militants after hitting two vehicles in Yemen's southern Shabwa province, two local security officials told CNN Thursday.

The first strike killed three militants in al-Saeed district, the officials said. The other two strikes were in nearby Aal Mahdi district -- with the first one missing its target, and the second killing the other two militants, they added.

Read more: A dangerous new world of drones

"The drone strikes killed five al Qaeda fighters but other militants are still on the run and hiding in the area," one of the officials told CNN on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to talk to media. "These parts of Shabwa have been strongholds for militants for more than a year, in large part because of the weak government security presence."

Residents in al-Saeed said the drones have been flying in the district for nearly a week.

U.S. drones have been targeting hideouts and operatives of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) for the last two years in Yemen.

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FBI Director Robert Mueller told Congress in May that al Qaeda and its affiliates, "especially al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, currently represent the top counterterrorism threat to the nation."

The group was behind the so-called underwear bomb attempt on a U.S.-bound international flight on Christmas Day 2009 and an effort to smuggle bombs in printer cartridges onto U.S.-bound cargo planes in 2010.

Read more: Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula's second in command killed, Yemen says

The Yemeni army killed hundreds of militants and arrested many others in the provinces of Abyan and Shabwa this year, after the terror group took advantage of a political stalemate in the country in 2011 to seize control of numerous towns in the south.

The drone strikes have sparked controversy in Yemen and Pakistan, where they're also used to target militants, after civilians have been killed accidentally in some of the explosions.

Read more: Obama ramps up covert war in Yemen

Yemen's parliament summoned Interior Minister Abdul-Kader Qahtan last month, demanding an explanation for a U.S. drone attack that killed 13 people, including two women, in the town of Rada in al-Baidha province.

Members of parliament demanded an immediate investigation into U.S. drone strikes that they said targeted "innocent people" under the pretext of fighting al Qaeda.

Lawmaker Nabil Al-Basha strongly criticized the attitude of the Yemeni government toward the drone strikes, noting that extra-judicial killing is prohibited in all laws and legislations.

Read related: Suspected U.S. drone strike kills civilians in Yemen, officials say

However, President Abdu Rabo Mansour Hadi, who visited the United States over the weekend, said Saturday that he personally approves every U.S. drone strike in his country and described the remotely piloted aircraft as a technical marvel that has helped reverse al Qaeda's gains.

After taking office in February, Hadi vowed to continue fighting al Qaeda until the group is uprooted from the country.

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