SANAA (AFP) – At least 12 Al-Qaeda members were killed in drone attacks in one day in Yemen as the United States stepped up strikes against suspected militants behind a global security alert.
Washington also evacuated all non-emergency staff from its consulate in the Pakistani city of Lahore on Thursday, citing “specific threats”.
The Wall Street Journal cited an anonymous U.S. official as saying the leader of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), Nasser al-Wuhayshi, masterminded the plot that sparked the global alert.
Previous reports said Wuhayshi had been ordered on the offensive by Al-Qaeda’s overall leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri.
But the U.S. official said an intercepted communication had shown that Zawahiri merely approved an operation that had been drawn up in Yemen.
According to Yemeni officials, Wuhayshi’s group planned to seize a Western-run oil terminal and a port city.
U.S. officials have not said what they think the targets were, but they have closed 19 embassies and diplomatic missions until at least the end of the week.
A spokesman for the U.S. embassy in Islamabad said the evacuation of all non-essential staff there was not linked to the alert that prompted the closure of embassies and consulates in the Middle East and Africa.
The move came as Pakistan’s troubled southwestern city of Quetta, focus of a surge in sectarian bloodshed, was hit by its second attack in two days as gunmen shot dead at least nine people outside a mosque on Friday.
And a suicide bomber killed 38 people at a police funeral in the city on Thursday in an attack claimed by the Taliban that will raise further concerns about violence that has continued unabated since the newly elected government took office.
Yemen’s northern neighbour Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, said it has arrested two suspected Al-Qaeda members who may have been plotting against Western diplomatic missions in the Middle East.
The two, a Yemeni and a Chadian, had contacts with AQAP, state news agency SPA quoted interior ministry spokesman General Mansur al-Turki as saying.
AQAP, formed in January 2009 in a merger of the Yemeni and Saudi branches of Al-Qaeda, is viewed by Washington as the most active branch of the worldwide jihadist network.
With little sign of the Al-Qaeda threat alert being eased, at least 12 suspected AQAP militants were killed in three separate drone strikes in Yemen on Thursday.