A government-led air strike in Yemen killed at least 30 suspected al-Qaeda militants, according to security officials within the country.
The air strike took place in the Shabwa province, a hard-to-get mountainous region east of Yemen’s capital, Sanaa.
The BBC reports that an unnamed official told journalists that dozens of al-Qaeda militants were gathered in the area during the strike.
Two senior al-Qaeda commanders were rumored to be among the 30 who were killed.
According to Reuters News Agency, the official could not be sure whether two of the top leaders were killed or not. He insisted that the possibility is high, however, and that it is likely that “one of them is the Saudi al-Qaeda member Nasser al-Weheshi.”
Another security official was reportedly heard saying that a “radical Muslim preacher” linked to the Major Nidal Hasan, the US Army psychiatrist who shot and killed 13 people, was also suspected to be killed in the strike.
Anwar al-Awlaki, who is based out of Yemen, held email correspondences with Hasan before the shooting at Fort Hood last month.
The official also noted that several Saudis and Iranians had been at the gathering held by the suspected terrorist group. Majority-Shia Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia have blamed each other for years for taking sides in Yemen’s bloody and protracted civil war.
The Saudi government has expressed concern that the group could gain resurgence in the country, and this week’s strike comes only days after repeated air strikes last week.
Last week was marked with the deaths of 34 suspected al-Qaeda militants and the capture of 17 more who were involved with operations in both the Abyan and Arhab provinces.
Officials maintained that the suspected militants had been planning multiple suicide attacks, much like those that have rocked Pakistan and Afghanistan. At the time of the raid, eight had been preparing explosive vests.
The increased violence in Yemen underscores the stronghold that al-Qaeda is feared to have over the region. More than 90 detainees in the notorious Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba are from Yemen. This constitutes almost half of all the detainees currently being held.
Yemen is also one of the poorest countries in the region, and nearly half of its population of 24 million people lives below the poverty level.
The country’s weak central authority and mountainous terrain is ideal for militant groups seeking out hiding spots, recruitment and training centers.
Al-Qaeda operatives have gone so far as to announce that with their extensive networks within both Yemen and Saudi Arabia, there has been a merger to create an al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
The U.S. has invested millions in the country in an effort to curb militant Islam and boost the country’s ability to counter and pinpoint al-Qaeda camps.
US intelligence agencies and briefings have come to the conclusion that, alongside Pakistan and Afghanistan, Yemen is a country that will be vitally important to a relatively positive outcome on the “war on terror.”