SANAA, Yemen — An airstrike killed al-Qaida's No. 2 leader in Yemen along with five others traveling with him in one car on Monday, senior Yemeni Defense Ministry officials reported. If confirmed, Saeed al-Shihri's death would be a major blow to the militant group.
They said the attack killed al-Shihri, a Saudi national, as the al-Qaida in Yemen deputy left a house in the southern Hadramawt province with his five companions.
The officials say the missile was believed to have been fired by a U.S. operated drone. The U.S. doesn't usually comment on such attacks but has used drones in the past to go after al-Qaida members in Yemen.
The Yemeni officials were confirming a brief Defense Ministry statement sent to Yemeni reporters on their mobile phones. A senior official at the Yemeni president's office confirmed the attack, but said DNA tests have yet to establish al-Shihri's identity. The officials all spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
Al-Qaida's Yemen branch is seen as the world's most active, planning and carrying out attacks against targets in and outside U.S. territory. If confirmed, the death of al-Shihri would be a major blow to the group as it faces a major crackdown in the south. The Yemeni military has retaken several towns that had been captured by the terror network during political unrest inspired by the Arab Spring last year.