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Published: Saturday December 14, 2013 MYT 5:10:02 PM
Updated: Saturday December 14, 2013 MYT 5:11:06 PM

Yemen says air strike targeted al Qaeda leaders

Police troopers stand guard on a police truck securing the vicinity of the Defence Ministry compound in Sanaa December 7, 2013. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

Police troopers stand guard on a police truck securing the vicinity of the Defence Ministry compound in Sanaa December 7, 2013. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

SANAA (Reuters) - Yemen said senior al Qaeda militants were targeted in Thursday's air strike in al-Bayda province, the first government statement on an incident which local officials said killed 15 people on their way to a wedding.

Local officials said the wedding party was hit in an air strike on Thursday in the south of Yemen after being mistaken for an al Qaeda convoy, and five people were also injured.

The government's statement, issued late on Friday, made no mention of the wedding or civilian casualties.

"An air strike was carried out at about 4:30 in the afternoon of (Thursday), targeting a car belonging to a leader," an official of the government's security committee was quoted as saying in the statement carried by the state news agency.

In the vehicle "were a number of al Qaeda leaders and members who were among the most high-ranking and who had been involved in planning terrorist operations," said the statement.

A senior government official from al-Bayda province said on Saturday that a government delegation had met with tribal leaders in the area and promised an investigation into the strike. He said the government promised to compensate families if the investigation showed some of those killed were civilians.

The United States has stepped up drone strikes in Yemen as part of a campaign against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), regarded by Washington as the most active wing of the militant network.

The United States acknowledges using drones in Yemen, AQAP's main stronghold, but does not comment on the practice.

Human Rights Watch said in a report earlier this year that U.S. missile strikes have killed dozens of civilians in Yemen.

Stabilising the country, which is also struggling with southern separatists and northern rebels, is an international priority due to fears of disorder in a state that flanks top oil producer Saudi Arabia and major shipping lanes.

On Monday, missiles fired from a U.S. drone killed at least three people travelling in a car in eastern Yemen.

(Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari; Writing by Mahmoud Habboush; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

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