WASHINGTON – U.S. and Yemeni officials said Friday that the target of a Dec. 12 drone strike in Yemen was the ringleader behind the plot that briefly closed 19 diplomatic posts across Africa and the Mideast earlier this year. But he was only wounded, while up to a dozen others were killed.
Two U.S. and one Yemeni official said Shawqi Ali Ahmad al-Badani, a midlevel leader in al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, was the target of the U.S. drone strike in the central city of Radda. U.S. officials say between nine and 12 other militants were killed, and they know of no civilian casualties. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to describe drone operations publicly.
Reports from Yemen were that the strike hit a wedding, killing 13 civilians.
The Yemeni government paid the local tribe compensation for the loss of life, but Yemen’s official security committee also announced that the airstrike had targeted al-Qaida militants, including those who masterminded attacks on government institutions, the police and army.
The U.S. officials say the militants were traveling to the wedding, but were not near civilians when they were hit.
The Yemeni official described al-Badani as a “very dangerous, high-risk operational militant” who was linked to the threat that shut down U.S. embassies in August, but also linked to a plot to target the U.S. embassy in Sanaa in 2012. Al-Badani was on the Yemeni government’s most-wanted list in 2008, 2010 and 2013, with a reward of roughly $100,000 offered for his capture.
The U.S. closed 19 of its diplomatic missions in the Middle East and Africa on Aug. 2 after it intercepted a message between al-Qaida chief Ayman al-Zawahri and Yemen’s al-Qaida offshoot about plans for a major attack. The U.S. missions as well as some European missions stayed shut for at least a week.
Yemen’s Radda area has frequently been targeted by such drone strikes, according to Bill Roggio of The Long War Journal, which tracks the strikes. The site has recorded 84 drone strikes in Yemen since 2002. Yemeni and U.S. officials say the Yemeni government signs off on each strike.