A US drone strike killed six suspected al-Qaeda
militants in southern Yemen on Wednesday, a day after the United
States and Britain pulled embassy staff from Sana'a citing the
possibility of terrorist attacks.
The drone fired two rockets at two vehicles in the southern province of Shabwah, killing the six insurgents, Qatari broadcaster Al Jazeera reported.
Yemen remained in a state of maximum alert on Wednesday because of the threat of al-Qaeda attacks. Soldiers and tanks were deployed outside key state institutions and foreign missions in the capital.
Germany and France have also closed their embassies in Sana'a, and the Dutch government Tuesday urged its citizens to leave the country.
The Yemeni government criticized the decisions to evacuate foreigners and said it could benefit "terrorists."
"Withdrawing staff at the Western embassies in Sana'a harms the exceptional cooperation between Yemen and the international alliance against terrorism," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
The army foiled a plan by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) to seize towns in the south and attack key ports manned by foreigners in the area, the independent website Barakish.net reported, quoting a security source.
AQAP planned to capture major harbours and oil installations in the city of Mukalla in the southern province of Hadramawt, according to the report.
The ultimate aim of al-Qaeda was to take control of Mukalla, which is a major tourist and business attraction, said the unnamed source.
Al-Qaeda's Yemen branch has repeatedly called for attacks on US diplomats and embassies.
IntelCenter, a Washington-based monitoring group, said al-Qaeda discussions about attacking embassies have been intercepted seven times since December 2009, including three times in the past 11 months.
One of the clearest threats was made on September 15, shortly after an attack on the US consulate in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi, which killed the US ambassador and three Americans.
There has been a suspected al-Qaeda presence in Yemen since at least 2000, when the group attacked the US warship USS Cole in Aden harbour, killing 17 US sailors.
In mid-2011, a group called Ansar al-Sharia (Partisans of Islamic Law), thought to be closely linked to AQAP or possibly a cover for it, captured several towns in southern Yemen, setting up an effective mini-state.
They took advantage of a weak government and divided military amid mass protests against former president Ali Abdullah Saleh.
In mid-2012, the Yemeni army - backed by the United States - launched a military offensive against Islamist militants with suspected ties to al-Qaeda in the south and east of the Arabian Peninsula country.
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