SANAA, Jan. 30 (Xinhua) -- U.S. drones raided a convoy carrying prominent leaders of an al Qaida wing in Yemen's southern restive province of Abyan on Monday night, killing at least 15 militants, local security officials and sources close to the terrorist group told Xinhua.
The raid was conducted by three U.S. drones in Abyan's eastern town of Lodar, said two provincial security officials on condition of anonymity.
A source close to the al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) told Xinhua by phone that the killed included three wanted leaders identified as Abdul-Monem al-Fadhani, Al-Khadr Em-Soudah and Ahmed Mu'eran Abu Ali, who was top AQAP leader in neighboring southeastern province of Shabwa.
"The al Qaida leaders were raided after they attended a high-ranking meeting earlier in the day in Jaar town of Abyan," added the source.
Al-Fadhani, an al-Qaida military commander in Abyan, had escaped unharmed eight U.S. air raids over the past few months. He was one of the most wanted terrorists for his involvement in the USS Cole suicide bomb attack in Aden in October 2000 that killed 17 U.S. sailors, a senior Yemeni intelligence official told Xinhua.
Scores of al Qaida militants cordoned off the area where the air raid took place, local residents said, adding that hundreds of militants from nearby al Qaida-held towns of Zinjibar, Moudia and Jaar were gearing to seize Lodar.
Lodar is located about 120 km northeast of Abyan's provincial capital of Zinjibar, which has been controlled by AQAP since May last year.
Abyan, about 480 km south of the capital Sanaa, is a key stronghold of AQAP, which has taken control of several cities and towns over the past few months.
Supported by the United States, the Yemeni army have engaged in fierce clashes with AQAP militants since 2009, leaving hundreds of people killed and thousands of others displaced.