By Mohammed Ghobari
SANAA (Reuters) - A senior al Qaeda official wanted by the United States and a local leader of the militant group's affiliate, Ansar al-Sharia, were killed in a drone strike in central Yemen overnight, tribal sources and a militant said on Wednesday.
Nabil al-Dahab, leader of Ansar al-Sharia in Yemen's al-Bayda province, was killed along with four other al Qaeda members, including Shawki al-Badani, the sources said. Badani is a leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) who is wanted by the United States.
Mamoun Hatem, another AQAP leader, confirmed on his Twitter account that al-Dahab had been killed by "American planes defending the Houthis against the charging mujahideen".
The Yemeni Defense Ministry said Badani had been killed, and added without elaborating that an al Qaeda leader it identified as Abu Maysara al-Hanaki had been killed by air strikes.
The U.S. State Department had designated Badani as a "global terrorist", saying he was linked to at least two plots against the U.S. embassy in Sanaa and a 2012 suicide bombing in the Yemeni capital that killed more than 100 soldiers.
A June 17, 2014, posting on the State Department website said the Yemeni government had offered a $100,000 reward for information about Badani. It also reported Yemeni authorities describing him as one of "the most dangerous terrorists affiliated with al Qaeda".
U.S. drone strikes killed at least 10 suspected al Qaeda militants on Tuesday in central Yemen, where fighting between members of Ansar al-Sharia and rebel Shi'ite Muslim Houthi fighters also killed 10 people, tribesmen said.
Fighting has flared in different parts of Yemen since the Houthis rose to dominance in recent months, threatening the fragile stability of a country that borders Saudi Arabia, the world's biggest oil exporter.
Houthi forces took over Sanaa in September and fanned out into central and western Yemen. That antagonized Sunni tribesmen and al Qaeda militants, who regard the Houthis as heretics.
In the latest advance on Wednesday, residents said Houthi fighters entered the town of al-Odayn in Ibb province after brief clashes with Ansar al-Sharia fighters.
One resident who gave his name as Abdulaziz told Reuters by telephone that Ansar al-Sharia fighters vanished in the early afternoon when the Houthis arrived.
A leader of the Dahab tribe earlier said that one of Nabil al-Dahab's bodyguards had been identified as among those killed in the overnight air strike, but he could not confirm Dahab himself had been killed because other bodies had been obliterated beyond recognition.
Other residents of Dahab's al-Manaseh village said they could neither confirm nor deny the reported death of the local Ansar al-Sharia leader, saying he had not been heard from since the Houthis captured the area last month.
The United States acknowledges using drones in Yemen but does not comment publicly on the practice. Sunni Islamist al Qaeda and its affiliates in Yemen are among the most active wings of the network founded by Osama bin Laden.
A statement issued by residents of the Qifa region, where the past few days of drone strikes have taken place, complained that the strikes by both the U.S. drones and the Yemeni air force were targeting "women and children at home".
"Those who are fighting the Houthis in Radda are the sons of the local tribes, and those who say they are al Qaeda ...are making these charges to justify the drones rocketing our houses and killing our families," the statement said.
(Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari; Writing by Sami Aboudi; Editing by William Maclean and Andrew Heavens)