17 Qaeda militants killed in Yemen air raid: ministry

Sanaa (ANTARA News/AFP) - Seventeen suspected Al-Qaeda militants were killed in an air raid that struck one of their hideouts in the southern town of Loder, the defence ministry said on Sunday.

The late Saturday attack brought to 57 the number of Islamist insurgents reportedly killed in south Yemen over the past three days, according to the defence ministry. AFP could not independently verify the toll.

"Seventeen Al-Qaeda terrorists were killed in an air raid that targeted one of their positions southeast of Loder," the defence ministry`s news website 26sep.net reported.

It was unclear if the strike was carried out by the Yemeni air force or by US drones. On Wednesday the Washington Post said US drones have carried out eight airs strikes in Yemen in the past four months.

Islamist militants have been trying to seize control of Loder in the restive southern province of Abyan to expand their grip on the region.

According to the Washington Post the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is seeking permission to launch more airborne drone strikes in Yemen, even when there is a risk the victims might not always be terrorists.

If President Barack Obama`s administration gives the CIA permission for the strikes, it could represent a politically dangerous escalation of US military activity in Yemen, the Post said.

The United States has never formally acknowledged the use of drones against Al-Qaeda in Yemen, considered by Washington to be the most active and deadly branch of the global terror network.

Al-Qaeda has exploited a decline in Yemeni central government control that accompanied Arab Spring-inspired protests since last year and eventually forced veteran president Ali Abdullah Saleh to resign.

The army, backed by armed civilians, has been battling the extremist group`s Yemeni branch, known as the Partisans of Sharia (Islamic law), over the control of Abyan province, most of which has fallen under the command of the Islamist insurgents.

The militants strengthened their control over Abyan after they overran its capital Zinjibar in May, prompting deadly battles with the army.

In a statement Sunday, 26sep.net reported that the army has regained control of the southern and eastern entrances to Zinjibar vowing to restore "security and stability across the province."

But the report could not be immediately confirmed by independent sources. (*)