SANAA (Reuters) - Air strikes launched by the Yemeni air force on positions of al Qaeda-linked fighters in the south killed 10 militants including some of their leaders, a government source said on Saturday.
The raids against the militants, who have expanded their base in southern Yemen during the months of turmoil that eventually ousted the president, targeted Bayda, about 130 km (80 miles) southeast of the capital Sanaa, late on Friday.
The source said: "Ten al Qaeda elements, including leading members, were killed in three raids by warplanes during a gathering of these elements in the governorate of Bayda."
"A number of vehicles and cars used by al Qaeda were also destroyed," the source said, adding the militants gathered were carrying equipment and weapons to launch attacks in the governorate.
Residents in Bayda said the fighter planes had raided the western outskirts of the town, where the Ansar al-Sharia militants, who have been fighting army forces since mid-2011, had been based.
"Flames and smoke could be seen rising from the area," one resident told Reuters by telephone.
Al Arabiya television earlier said Friday's raid was believed to have been carried out by U.S. planes.
Working with the Yemeni authorities, the United States has repeatedly used drones to attack militants from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, described by CIA Director David Petraeus last year as "the most dangerous regional node in the global jihad".
In late January, at least 12 al Qaeda militants, including four local leaders, were killed in a drone strike in southern Yemen, which a tribal chief said was a U.S. attack.
The United States and Yemen's neighbor Saudi Arabia have been deeply worried about the expansion of al Qaeda in Yemen, where the group controls swathes of land near oil shipping routes through the Red Sea.
(Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari; Writing by Firouz Sedarat and Martina Fuchs; Editing by Alison Williams)