A woman, a 10-year-old boy and a local Al-Qaeda leader were among at least 11 people killed alongside two Western hostages when US-led forces battled militants in a failed rescue mission in Yemen, residents said.
US special forces raided the village of Dafaar in Shabwa province, a militant stronghold in southern Yemen, shortly after midnight on Saturday, killing several members of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
American journalist Luke Somers, 33, and South African teacher Pierre Korkie, 56, were shot and killed by their captors during the raid intended to secure the hostages’ freedom, US officials said.
AQAP, formed in 2006 by the merger of the Yemeni and Saudi branches of the network, has for years been seen by Washington as one of the movement’s most dangerous branches.
Western governments fear an advance by Shi’ite Muslim Houthi fighters.
However, since Islamic State in Syria and Iraq began distributing films of its militants executing Western hostages, the focus on AQAP, which has traditionally used hostage-taking as a way to raise funds, had diminished until now.
At least one Briton and a Turkish man are still held by the group.
“AQAP and Daesh (Islamic State) are essentially the same organisation but have different methods of execution and tactics,” a senior Yemeni intelligence official said on the sidelines of a conference in Bahrain this weekend.
Reports on social media feeds of known militants also said one of those killed was an AQAP commander and two members of the group. Six other people from the same southern Yemen tribe also died, the reports said, although they could not be immediately verified.
Senior US officials have said the raid was carried out by US forces alone, but both Yemen’s government and local residents said Yemeni forces also participated in the raid and engaged militants holding Somers and Korkie.