A suspected U.S. drone killed four alleged al-Qaeda members in Yemen on Tuesday, as the State Department ordered the U.S. embassy there evacuated as a result of the threat by al-Qaeda that has triggered temporary shutdowns of 19 American diplomatic posts across the Muslim world.
The drone fired a missile at a car carrying the four men in the al-Arqeen district of Marib province, setting it on fire and killing all of them, the officials said.
The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they are not allowed to talk to the media, believed that one of the dead is Saleh Jouti, a senior al-Qaeda member.
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The strike is the fourth in less than two weeks. Three similar attacks have hit cars belonging to alleged al-Qaeda figures in southern Yemen.
Meanwhile, a statement issued Tuesday says the U.S. State Department has ordered the departure of non-emergency U.S. government personnel from Yemen "due to the continued potential for terrorist attacks."
The travel warning says U.S. citizens currently in Yemen should depart and calls the security threat level in Yemen "extremely high."
A U.S. intelligence official and a Mideast diplomat told The Associated Press that the current shutdown was instigated by an intercepted secret message between al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahri and his deputy in Yemen about plans for a major attack.
Yemeni authorities released the names of 25 wanted al-Qaeda suspects on Monday, saying they were planning attacks in the capital, Sanaa, and other cities across the country.
A statement from Yemen's Interior Ministry said the suspects were going to target foreign offices and organizations, as well as Yemeni government installations in the impoverished Arab country. It said security was beefed up around embassies, ports, airports, oil installations and power stations.
The statement listed some allegedly senior figures in the branch, known as Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, including Saudi nationals Ibrahim Mohammed el-Rubaish and Ibrahim Hassan el-Assiri.
Released from Guantanamo
El-Rubaish was released from Guantanamo in 2006 and is believed to have played significant roles in al-Qaeda's expanding offshoot in Yemen. He is a theological adviser to the group and his writings and sermons are prominent in the group's literature.
The Yemeni statement said security forces will pay $23,000 US to anyone who comes forward with information that leads to the arrests of any of the wanted men.
Washington considers the al-Qaeda branch in Yemen among the network's most dangerous and has launched drone strikes against its top figures in Yemen.
The United States has also assisted Yemen's military in fighting the militants who, at one point during the country's recent political turmoil, had overrun large sections of land in the south. The group has also carried out bold assassination attacks on Yemeni security forces, killing hundreds over the past two years.