Thursday, December 24, 2009
US drones wipe out top al Qaeda leaders in Yemen
DEBKAfile's counter-terror sources report that the air strike in eastern Yemen Thursday, Dec. 24, which left more than 30 dead, was in fact a US drone attack which wiped out a large part of al Qaeda's leadership in Yemen and Saudi Arabia.
Among them were two high-ranking Yemeni al Qaeda operatives Saud al Qahtani, Mohammed Amir, al Qaeda's commander in Saudi Arabia, Saad Shahani, and Anwar al Awkali, the American imam who preached to US. Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the gunman who murdered 13 US military personnel at Ford Hood, Texas last month. They were all meeting at a hideout in the province of Shabwa, some 650 km east of the capital, Sanaa. Nasser al-Wahishi, al Qaeda's commander-in-chief in the Arabian peninsula, was there too but escaped harm.
Awkali, who praised Maj. Hasan for killing Americans, was imam of the Dar al-Hijrah mosque attended also by three of the 9/11 hijackers.
The al Qaeda leadership was meeting to plan revenge for the Dec. 17 raids in the capital Sanaa and the southern province of Abyan, in which 34 jihadis were killed and 17 arrested. Yemen claimed the two air attacks, but DEBKAfile's military sources attribute both to US pilotless aerial vehicles.
The White House did not deny reports that the first attack was ordered by President Barack Obama in person.
Our military sources add that the Yemeni authorities are highlighting successes, real or inflated, against al Qaeda to divert attention from their serious reverses against the Iran-backed Houthi separatist rebellion in the North, notwithstanding Saudi military intervention, US assistance and, as DEBKAfile now reports, the recent arrival of a Moroccan commando unit.