Story highlights

Militants suspected to be from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula

Official: Militants sought to recruit and seek support from tribes to fight government

Five missiles used in attack, said official

CNN  — 

Three individuals suspected to be militants from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula were killed when their vehicle was struck by an air strike, in Yemen’s northern province of al-Jawf on Sunday, Defense Ministry officials told CNN.

The attack took place in Khab Shiyaf district, one of the residential areas of the province and near the Saudi border with Yemen. The officials would not confirm whether a U.S. drone was involved in the operation.

Two security officials told CNN that among the killed was Saleh Huraidan, considered by Yemeni authorities as a senior leader in AQAP. “The killed militants were in the area to recruit and seek support from tribes in the fighting against government forces,” the official said on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to talk to media.

The official said that five missiles were used in the attack.

Residents in the area said that nearly a dozen explosions were heard at the site of the attack even after the suspects were killed.

They complain that cries of children continued after the strikes. “Any of our children could have easily been killed by a shrapnel if they were in the wrong place during the attack,” said AbdulSalam Abdullah, a resident of Khab Shiyaf and eyewitness to the attack. “The suspects were on a vehicle and the attack could have easily happened far from homes and civilian presence,” Abdullah said.

The Yemeni government in coordination with the United States has been targeting senior AQAP militants in Yemen for years but drone strikes increased after President Abdorabu Hadi came to power in February of 2012.

A senior Defense Ministry official said that more than 40 drone strikes have taken place in the first five months of 2013 alone.

Earlier this week, the Yemeni government declared an all-out war on AQAP, launching an air and ground offensive on the terror group in southeastern Hadhramout province. The Defense Ministry said that more than a dozen militants were killed in the latest clashes. More than 5,000 troops backed by tanks and helicopters took part in the fighting in Ghayl Bawasir, a city-village situated 30 kilometers (18 miles) east of the seaport of Mukalla.