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The death of Mr. Mehdar comes as the Obama administration is facing rising pressure to help Yemen’s government eliminate militant groups there.
From its base in Yemen, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Penisula has recently organized attacks outside the country. The US and analysts have been prodding the Yemeni government to clamp down on Al Qaeda, citing fears that the group has grown and that militants from as far as Pakistan and Afghanistan were joining its ranks, as The Christian Science Monitor and others have reported.
Those fears seemed to be realized when the group claimed responsibility for the failed attempt on Dec. 25 to bring down a US-bound jetliner. The US accuses the group of having trained Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the young Nigerian who attempted the jetliner bombing.
Little is publicly known now about Mehdar, the Al Qaeda commander killed last night, except that he led a force of militants in the al-Houta region, nearly 400 miles from the capital, Saana, reports Al Jazeera.
His death appears to be just the latest setback for the group. On Dec. 23, security forces in Shabwa Province killed 34 militants, including senior Al Qaeda leaders, according to Agence France-Presse. That followed an earlier airstrike on Dec. 17 against a militant training camp in Abyan, which the government says killed an additional 34 militants.
Hours after Mehdar’s death, two Yemeni soldiers were killed and four wounded in an ambush in the same province, Reuters reports. Security officials told Reuters it was possible it had been retaliation for Mehdar’s death.
Despite the seeming potency of the group, both the US and Yemen have taken a strong stand against the deployment of US troops to Yemen. President Barack Obama has said he will not authorize deploying troops. And the Yemeni government recently denied reports that its government has an agreement with Washington whereby US fighter jets can target Al Qaeda enclaves, reports Saba Net, a Yemeni news agency.
Many believe that despite its capacity to make headlines, Al-Qaeda in Yemen remains small, The Christian Science Monitor reported recently:
The Christian Science Monitor
The Washington Post