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Al-Qaeda commander and guards killed in Yemen drone attack

Jalal Belaidi, described as a 'top military commander', killed along with two guards in attack believed to have been carried out by US
The US is the only country operating drones in Yemen (AFP)

An air strike believed to have been carried out by a US drone in south Yemen on Thursday killed a prominent chief of al-Qaeda's branch in the country, a family member said.

Jalal Belaidi, alias Abu Hamza, a top commander of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), was killed along with two guards in the Maraqesha area of Abyan province, the relative said.

The US is the only country known to operate armed drones over Yemen, home to AQAP, considered by Washington as the group's most dangerous affiliate.

A tribal source also confirmed the death of Belaidi following contact with AQAP militants in the area.

Belaidi, who was born in Abyan, served in the past as the leader of al-Qaeda in Zinjibar, but he is said to have climbed the ranks of the group to became a top military commander.

The US has kept up attacks on militants during months of fighting between pro-government forces and Houthi rebels who control the capital.

Late on Wednesday, a drone strike killed six suspected members of AQAP in nearby Shabwa province, a security official said. 

Militants including AQAP and the Islamic State group have gained ground in the south, with AQAP fighters seizing the town of Azzan in Shabwa earlier this week.

Al-Qaeda militants control Abyan's provincial capital Zinjibar and the nearby town of Jaar. They move freely between Hadramawt, Shabwa and Abyan. 

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