US drone strikes killed eight Al-Qaeda militants gathered in a house in southern Yemen, tribal sources said Thursday, amid reports a Saudi mole had infiltrated the network and supplied information to the CIA.
The strikes took place around midnight (2100 GMT Wednesday) in the town of Jaar, an Al-Qaeda stronghold in Abyan province, a source in the town said.
"We heard three explosions rock the town," the source said, adding that a "US drone" carried out the strikes on a residence where the jihadists had been meeting in the dead of night.
"Eight militants were killed and their bodies were left in pieces," the source told AFP as witnesses said parts of the two-storey building were completely destroyed.
No other houses were affected in what appeared to be surgical strikes based on precise information.
Another tribal source said that among the militants killed was one going by the name of "Jallad," who had been in charge of armaments for Al-Qaeda's fighters in Yemen.
The latest air strikes came after Yemeni Al-Qaeda leader Fahd al-Quso, who was wanted in connection with the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole, was killed in an air strike in eastern Yemen on Sunday.
Quso's name figured on an FBI list of most wanted terrorists, along with a reward of up to $5 million for information leading to his arrest.
US media reported that a Saudi spy, reportedly a "mole" or "double agent," spent weeks with Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and garnered sensitive information that allowed the CIA to launch the drone strike against Quso.
The reports said that the "mole" had been ordered by AQAP to blow up a US-bound airliner.
A senior US official told the New York Times that the bomb for the would-be Al-Qaeda attack was sewn into "custom fit" underwear that would have been difficult to detect even in a pat-down at an airport.
ABC News reported that the latest plot by AQAP was thwarted by a spy who infiltrated the group and took the explosive to Saudi Arabia.
Several military officials in Sanaa told AFP that this week's air strikes were launched by US aircraft and coordinated by Yemen President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi, as well as by military and intelligence leaders.
On April 22, the financier of Yemen's Al-Qaeda branch -- Mohammed Said al-Omda, also known as Abu Gharib Taizi -- was killed in an air strike which witnesses said was carried out by a US drone in the northeast of the country.
Omda was considered AQAP's number four.
A week before that, another air strike which a security official said was conducted by a US drone targeted a moving vehicle carrying Al-Qaeda operatives in the province of Bayda, some 210 kilometres (130 miles) southeast of the capital Sanaa, killing three leaders.
Among them was a local AQAP leader, Abu Hamza al-Sabri, referred to as the "Emir (prince) of Bayda."
Tribal sources in areas under Al-Qaeda control said on Thursday that AQAP has been heavily infiltrated by intelligence agents from Saudi Arabia, Yemen and even the United States.
The infiltration had occurred because AQAP has been randomly recruiting hundreds of unemployed youths over the past few months, they told AFP.
In February, witnesses said that AQAP executed two of its members accused of planting tracking devices in the vehicles of fellow militants and of providing Yemeni authorities, and the Saudi and US intelligence services, with information.
They were publicly shot dead in front of dozens of residents after the accusations against them were read out, the witnesses said.
Al-Qaeda is still holding around 30 of its militants accused of spying in the towns of Azzan in Shabwa province as well as Jaar, tribal sources say.
The jihadists, who have named themselves the Partisans of Sharia (Islamic law), control parts of southern and eastern Yemen where Sanaa's authority is weak.
Hadi, who succeeded veteran leader Ali Abdullah Saleh after he stepped down following a year of protests, has vowed since his election in February to intensify the war against Al-Qaeda.
"The war against terrorists has not started yet, and will not be over before we purge every province and village so that the displaced can return home peacefully," Hadi warned last week.