US airstrikes kill four al Qaeda suspects in Yemen

A pair of airstrikes launched by U.S. aerial drones hit two vehicles travelling in the Bayhan area of Shabwa province, killing all four occupants inside, according to Reuters. 

Shabwa province, located in the southeastern part of the country, is where remnants of the Yemen cell — known as al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) — had retreated to after Yemeni forces rousted the group from its strongholds in nearby Abyan province. 

Two top AQAP members, Fahd Saleh al-Anjaf al-Harithi and Hassan Ali al-Ishaqi, were killed in Tuesday's airstrikes, officials from Yemen's defense ministry told Reuters on Tuesday.

The attacks come as an American-backed Yemeni offensive against AQAP positions enters its third month. Government troops with the support of U.S. drone strikes pushed into al Qaeda-held territory in April. 

Clashed between Yemeni soldiers in Abyan and elsewhere in southern Yemen have left hundreds of al Qaeda fighters and government troops dead and left the organization reeling. 

Many of AQAP's surviving operatives have attempted to cross over into neighboring Oman, seeking refuge from Yemen's counterterrorism campaign. 

But the Yemen cell, seen as one of the most active and dangerous within al Qaeda, has still managed to plan and attempt to execute terror attacks against targets in the United States and the West. 

On Sunday, British intelligence operatives reportedly broke up an AQAP plot to blow up an U.S. commercial airliner on the eve of the summer Olympic games in London. 

Members of MI6, the United Kingdom's foreign intelligence directorate, disrupted the alleged plot, according to reports in the Sunday Times of London. 

The plot involved a Norwegian-born operative recruited by al Qaeda who planned to detonate a bomb similar to the one AQAP members attempted to smuggle aboard another airliner bound for the United States from Yemen back in May. 

The would-be bomber, who was actually a double agent working with U.S. and Saudi intelligence, was a native of the Mideast country and a naturalized British citizen. 

Posing as an Islamic fundamentalist willing to fight for AQAP, the double agent was reportedly given a new type of explosive that was undetectable by current forms of airline security, according to news reports at the time. 

AQAP has been specifically targeting western recruits from Europe and elsewhere, assuming Caucasian operatives would arouse less suspicion from counterterrorism officials.