Yemeni warplanes killed six Al Qaeda operatives Friday near a desert village bordering Saudi Arabia, including a senior military leader who plotted to assassinate the U.S. ambassador, security officials said.
Four of those killed were on Yemen's list of most-wanted Al Qaeda figures, including Qassim al-Raimi, who was considered the top military chief in the terrorist network's offshoot in Yemen.
"Two cars carrying eight dangerous Al Qaeda members were hit in an area between Saada and al-Jouf," a Yemeni security official told Reuters. "Two may have survived and escaped."
Al-Raimi, who is considered the No. 3 leader of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, was the target of a U.S. airstrike in December but escaped unharmed. The Yemeni government has targeted him at least three times in recent weeks.
Friday's airstrike hit near the village of Yatama, about 118 miles northeast of the capital, San'a, security officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief journalists.
Yemen has emerged as a vital training ground for Islamic militants, but the country's government has increased pressure on Al Qaeda operatives this year in the wake of the botched Christmas Day terror attack on a U.S. airliner.
U.S. officials say the man who attempted to set off a chemical explosive on Northwest Airlines Flight 253 in December was trained and armed by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula during his visits to Yemen.
With the help of U.S. counterterrorism aid and training, Yemen has launched airstrikes and deployed thousands of troops to the areas where the group has established footholds among sympathetic tribes.
The group, a merger of Al Qaeda's wings in Yemen and Saudi Arabia, is led by Nasser al-Wahayshi, a Yemeni who was once Usama bin Laden's secretary. Wahayshi and al-Raymi were among 23 militants who escaped from a jail in Yemen's capital of Sana in 2006.
Al-Raimi had been convicted in 2005 and sentenced to five years in prison for plotting a bomb attack in the capital's diplomatic quarter and planning to assassinate the American ambassador. Neither plot was carried out.
Also among the dead in Friday's strike was Ammar al-Waeli, who was accused of involvement in a July 2007 suicide bombing that killed eight Spanish tourists and two Yemenis visiting a temple in central Yemen.
Al-Waeli was also suspected of having a role in the kidnapping of a German family and a British man who disappeared in June and have yet to be found.
Friday's airstrike took place along the edge of Jouf province, one of three provinces where Al Qaeda is believed to have its strongest presence in the country. At the beginning of January, Yemen sent thousands of troops to Jouf and the two other provinces, Marib and Abyan.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.