An airstrike killed al-Qaeda's No 2 leader in Yemen along with five others travelling with him in one car yesterday, senior Yemeni Defence Ministry officials reported. If confirmed, Said al-Shihri's death would be a big blow to the militant group.
They said the attack killed Shihri, a Saudi national, as the al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) deputy left a house in the southern Hadramawt province with his five companions.
The officials say the missile was believed to have been fired by a US-operated drone. The United States does not usually comment on such attacks.
The Yemeni officials were confirming a brief Defence Ministry statement sent to Yemeni reporters on their mobile phones.
"The Saudi terrorist [Said al-Shihri], the second man in al-Qaeda, was killed in a quality operation by the armed forces in Hadramawt," the 26sep.net news website reported.
"Six other terrorist elements accompanying him were also killed," it added, quoting what it said was a "high-ranking source", without mentioning when the operation took place.
"[Shihri]'s death deals a painful blow to what's left of the terrorist elements."
A tribal source said that a ground operation had taken place in the province of Hadramawt, where the family of al-Qaeda's slain founder Osama bin Laden had its roots.
But there was no independent confirmation of his death.
Shihri escaped death on September 20 last year when US drones carried out several air strikes on the village of Al-Mahfad in Abyan province in the south.
He was released from Guantanamo in 2007 and was flown to Saudi Arabia where he was put through a rehabilitation programme.
But after completing the programme, Shihri disappeared and later resurfaced as the second man in AQAP, which has been repeatedly described by US officials as the most dangerous of the jihadist network's worldwide affiliates.
Saudi and Yemeni al-Qaeda branches had merged to form the Yemen-based AQAP, announced in January 2009.
AQAP has been linked to the 2009 Christmas plot in which a bomb hidden in a Nigerian attacker's underwear failed to detonate on a plane bound for Detroit.
It is also suspected of having a hand in a 2010 attempt to blow up cargo planes heading to the United States with explosives concealed in printer cartridges.
Agence France-Presse, Associated Press