On the 4th of October 2012, a suspected US drone strike hit and killed up to six Ansar al-Sharia militants and injured up to four others in the desert region of al-Saeed in the southern Yemeni province of Shabwa. According to security sources reporting to Akhbar al-Youm, the strike took place at roughly eleven o’clock in the morning. Even though it cannot be ruled out, there are no reports of civilian harm.
Confusion exists concerning the number of dead and the circumstances around the strike. First an unnamed tribal leader reported to Akhbaar24 that “The initial outcome of the raid is five dead supporters of Al-Sharia.” Multiple other news sources, such as the Huffington Post and English Ahram, also reported that five militants died as a consequence of the strike. The Huffington Post gained their insight from a Yemeni security official who claimed the strike was American and that all those who died were located in the one car. The official was unaware of whether there were any casualties or injuries in the second car. Barakish Net, on the other hand, reported that a local source had told them that only three had been killed and that an unknown number of additional people had been injured. Akhbar al-Youm provided the highest report of casualties quoting security sources which claimed that six had died. What the different sources seem to have in common though is that they believe that it was an American drone that conducted the strike. The US, however, has not commented on the strike.
The circumstances of the strike are also unclear. Akhbaar24 reported that local residents had told AFP that the strike was conducted by a drone which fired four missiles hitting two cars carrying the Ansar al-Sharia members. However, Barakish Net reported that there were not only four missiles that were fired but in fact five. In the aftermath of the strike one of the local residents reported that “The cars were burning, and we could not approach them because the drone was still in the air.” According to 26 September, a local source had stated the dead bodies were later transported to Yeshbam and buried there. In addition, a tribal leader reported that four Al Qaeda vehicles were sent to the area after the strike and that they “set up a checkpoint on the road linking Saeed and Ataq”.
Furthermore, the location of the strike is also under dispute. Al Jazeera reported that witnesses said the two cars were travelling through the town of Saeed in Shabwa. However, Reuters reported that a security official claimed that the strike took place in the remote area of Maqbala which is also in the Shabwa province. CNN, who are citing two local security officials, claim, on the other hand, that the strikes were split between two locations. The first strike, which they claim killed three, took place in the al-Saeed district whilst two other strikes took place not far away in the Aal Mahdi district killing two. Images from the aftermath of the strike suggest that at least one of the strikes took place on a plain.
Concerning the identity of the militants who were killed, Yemen Post quoted a local official who stated that one of them was an Egyptian national and that one of the others was a leader of Al Qaeda in the Azzan Area. Multiple sources, such as 26 September Net and Barakish Net, confirm that one of the killed was an Egyptian. Akhbar al-Youm was able to add further detail to the identity of those killed, stating that one of the killed was Saad bin Atef al-Awlaki who is likely the leader of Al-Qaeda in the Azzan area which the other sources seem to have been referring to. Akhbar al-Youm reported however that information concerning the death of al-Awlaki is conflicting due to communication from the region being interrupted in the aftermath of the strike. Furthermore, more recent reports suggest that al-Awlaki may still be alive. France24 reports that al-Awlaki was one of the contenders to take over the leadership of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula after the death of Qassim al-Rimi in 2020.
Akhbar al-Youm was also able to add that one of the others who seemed to have died from the strike is Abu Hajar al-Barasi. Al-Barasi was apparently the assistant of al-Habashi who was in charge of the militants located in Qarn al-Sawda. This knowledge they gained from the same security source who claimed that al-Awlaki had died. So far it does not seem like any other sources can confirm the death of al-Barasi.
Aside from al-Awlaki and al-Habashi, multiple news sources state that Sheikh Al-Abab (35) and Musab al-Masri, who are both prominent figures in Ansar al-Sharia, were also killed in the strike. Yemenat reports that the news outlet Al-Ghad had received exclusive statements from individuals close to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula who said that al-Masri, who was an Egyptian national high up in the organisation, had been killed immediately by the first strike that hit the vehicle. Al-Masri was apparently a prominent figure who had been given a 21 year prison sentence in Egypt but then he was able to escape during the revolution and join Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
Al-Abab, was on the other hand, according to Al-Quds Al-Arabi, the fourth highest ranked in the Al-Jihad based in the Arabian Peninsula. The news outlet quoted a private source who stated that Al-Abab and an aide “were martyred in the American raid that was carried out by an unmanned plane in the Upper Egypt district of Shabwa governorate a few days ago.” According to Yemenat, unlike al-Masri, Al-Abab was not killed by the first strike. He was instead able to escape from the area after the strike. As people rushed to the scene, Al-Abab escaped by foot and managed to get several kilometres away. However, Al-Ghad’s source, which Yemenat were referring to, had stated that the drone tracked down Al-Abab shortly after and fired another missile. Al-Abab was apparently killed by a piece of shrapnel which hit him as a result of this strike. According to a government source reporting to NZWeek, Al-Abab was seriously injured by the strike but did not die immediately. He was first transported to a local medical centre but then later succumbed to his injuries.
The incident occured at 11:00:00 local time.
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Reports of the incident mention the villages of Al Hqail (الحقيل), Sadiya (السدية) and Baras/Pars (بارس) in the Said (مديرية الصعيد) district of Shabwa governorate. Airwars was unable to locate Al Hqail and Baras areas, however, the coordinates for the area of Sadiya (السدية), just north of the town of Said, are: 14.3833330, 46.9000000. The image published of the damaged vehicles suggests that the strike took place in a flat area rather than in the surrounding mountains. Due to limited information and satellite imagery available to Airwars, we were unable to verify the location further.