Early on 4 November, the wire services reported that six al-Qaida suspects, including a senior operative of Osama bin Laden, were killed when their car exploded in the northern province of Marib (about 100 miles east of the capital San'a, in an area where al-Qaida is active). A Yemeni spokesman said that traces of explosives were found in the car, as well as ammunition, weapons and communication devices. "Anonymous officials" soon crawled out from under every rock, providing the press with the latest theories.
The Hellfire in action.
Yemeni officials initially speculated that the explosives had accidentally detonated, but local tribesmen told the Associated Press they saw a Yemeni Air Force helicopter hovering overhead right before the explosion. Another anonymous official told AP that the attack was believed to have been conducted by a CIA aircraft, possibly a missile-carrying Predator drone. First reports also claimed that the blast occurred at dawn Monday, but tribesmen said the explosion happened on the afternoon of the 3rd.
The car was on fire and large chunks of it's roof blown away, while the area around it was covered in smoke. Witnesses said that body parts were thrown outside. Among the dead was Ali Qaed Sinan al-Harthi, al-Qaeda's chief operative in Yemen and a prime target of American anti-terrorism efforts. An associate of bin Laden since the early 1990s in Sudan, he is suspected in the October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole. The CIA, which has used Predator UAVs to target terrorist leaders before, declined to comment.
Local authorities have been monitoring this particular vehicle for a while. In August, U.S.-trained Yemeni troops deployed in Marib, a tribal stronghold where authorities believe al-Qaeda members and supporters are operating.
Also on the 3rd, a helicopter carrying employees of Dallas, Texas-based oil company Hunt Corp. came under small-arms fire just after takeoff, forcing an emergency landing at San'a airport that slightly injured two people. The next day, Yemeni security forces pursued two men in Saadah (112 miles north of San'a) and arrested them in connection with the shooting. Another anonymous security official said both men were members of an unidentified radical Islamic group and that authorities were looking for two other men in the attack on the helicopter. - Adam Geibel