SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Al-Qaida militants staged a surprise attack Monday on a Yemeni army base in the south, killing 20 soldiers and capturing 25 just hours after a U.S. drone strike killed a senior figure in the terror network wanted in connection with the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen.
It was not immediately clear if the pre-dawn attack on the military base in the southern Abyan province was in retaliation for the death of Fahd al-Quso, a top al-Qaida leader on the FBI's most wanted list.
The militants managed to reach the base both from the sea and by land, gunning down troops and making away with weapons and other military hardware after the blitz attack, Yemeni military officials said.
Government forces later shelled militant positions elsewhere in Abyan, killing 16 militants, said the officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
Yemen has been waging an offensive on al-Qaida, whose fighters took advantage of the country's political turmoil during the past year to expand their hold in the south, seizing entire cities and towns and large swathes of land. Abyan's provincial capital of Zinjibar has been held by al-Qaida for a year.
The new Yemeni president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, has promised improved cooperation with the U.S. to combat the militants. On Saturday, he said the fight against al-Qaida is in its early stages. Hadi took over in February from longtime authoritarian leader Ali Abdullah Saleh.
On Sunday, al-Quso, the top al-Qaida leader, was hit by a missile as he stepped out of his vehicle along with another operative in the southern Shabwa province, Yemeni military officials said.
The drone strike was carried out by the CIA, after an extended surveillance operation by the CIA and U.S. military, two U.S. officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
Al-Quso, 37, was on the FBI's most wanted list, with a $5 million reward for information leading to his capture. He was indicted in the U.S. for his role in the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in the harbor of Aden, Yemen, in which 17 American sailors were killed and 39 injured.