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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Al-Qaida Suspects Killed by CIA Missile in Yemen

MARIB, Yemen -- Six al-Qaida suspects, including Osama bin Laden's top lieutenant in Yemen, were killed when U.S. forces carried out their first overt strike on al-Qaida in the Middle East by firing a Hellfire missile on the suspects' car in northwest Yemen.

A U.S. official in Washington confirmed that U.S. forces carried out the strike, believed to have been conducted by a CIA aircraft, possibly a missile-carrying Predator drone. The official spoke on condition of anonymity.

The Yemeni news agency said initial information indicated that the dead included Qaed Salim Sinan al-Harethi, who U.S. counterintelligence officials believe was al-Qaida's top operative in Yemen.

A tribesman who refused to be identified said he saw al-Harethi's dismembered body in the car.

Al-Harethi was a major target of U.S. anti-terrorism efforts. He was an associate of bin Laden since the early 1990s in Sudan and was a suspect in the October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in Aden, in which 17 sailors were killed.

In Washington, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld would not say Monday if the U.S. military had played any role in the explosion. But noting al-Harethi's background, Rumsfeld told a Pentagon press conference "it would be a very good thing if he were out of business."

A Yemeni official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the blast occurred at dawn Monday. Tribesmen in the area, however, said it was Sunday afternoon.

"Authorities have been monitoring this particular car for a while and we believe those men belonged to al-Qaida's terror network," the official said.

Yemeni officials first theorized that the car blew up because the men were carrying explosives that may have been triggered accidentally.

However, tribesmen suspected that the car had come under attack, although none interviewed claimed to have seen a missile or the actual explosion.

Large parts of the car's roof had been blown away and tribesmen said body parts had been thrown outside the vehicle. The remains were taken late Monday to a military hospital in San'a.

Rumsfeld on Monday characterized Yemen's cooperation with the United States as "good," noting the two countries have been sharing information.

"We have some folks in that country who have been working with the government and helping them think through ways of doing things," the U.S. defense secretary said.