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Top al Qaeda leader dead in airstrike, Yemen says

By the CNN Wire Staff
April 25, 2012 -- Updated 1207 GMT (2007 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Yemen says Mohammed Saeed al-Umda is killed in U.S. drone airstrike
  • Al-Umda is called one of al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula's top commanders
  • Officials say at least 52 suspected al Qaeda militants have been killed this week

(CNN) -- The fourth-most wanted al Qaeda leader in Yemen was killed Tuesday in an airstrike in the northeastern province of Mareb, the Yemeni government announced.

Two senior security officials told CNN that U.S. drones conducted the airstrike.

The Interior Ministry said Mohammed Saeed al-Umda was killed when his vehicle was hit in the remote desert region of Al-Samdah. Two of his aides also died in the strike.

"This is a success for the war on terror. Al-Umda has been on the run for years and his absence will help in limiting the terror network's operation in Yemen," a senior Defense Ministry official told CNN on condition of anonymity.

According to the Interior Ministry, al-Umda was one of al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula's top commanders and was tasked with providing logistical and financial support to the network.

Yemen takes a step toward democracy

In 2006, he escaped from the Sanaa political security prison and was sentenced for 10 years in absentia by a Yemen criminal court.

The news of al-Umda's death comes as the government announced a full-scale operation against al Qaeda militants in the provinces of Shabwa, Abyan, Mareb and al-Baitha.

The Defense Ministry said Tuesday that at least 52 suspected al Qaeda militants were killed over the past two days in battles and airstrikes on numerous targets in the provinces of Abyan and Shabwa.

The ministry said the fighting is now in favor of the army amid ongoing successful attacks on militants' hideouts and strongholds.

A senior Defense Ministry official told CNN that 14 troops were killed in Abyan since Monday and that military reinforcements will continue arriving. He said that at least 900 additional troops would be sent to Abyan and Shabwa within the next days. He added that strategic military and geographical locations were regained during the nonstop battles.

FBI Director Robert Mueller arrived in Sanaa on Tuesday and met with President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi, mainly discussing the counterterrorism program in Yemen.

A presidential aide told CNN that Hadi promised complete cooperation with the United States.

"Talks today are a continuation of a series of talks President Hadi had with a number of visiting U.S. officials since February and mainly focused on the U.S. counterterrorism program and supporting Yemen during the transition period," the aide said.

The aide said the United States was worried about al Qaeda's expansion in the country and its mission to destabilize the region. "It's not a secret that al Qaeda is stronger today than a year ago. Yemen needs support if it seeks to defeat this enemy," the aide concluded.

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