SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Suspected militants shot and killed three senior Yemeni air force pilots traveling to an air base in the country’s south on Wednesday, security officials said.
Two gunmen on a motorcycle intercepted the pilots’ vehicle in Dubba, an area about 10 kilometers (six miles) outside Al-Annad base in the southern province of Lahj, the officials said. Al-Annad is Yemen’s largest air base, which hosts a group of U.S. military advisers helping the authorities fight al-Qaida’s local branch.
The U.S. considers the terror network’s Yemeni affiliate to be its most dangerous offshoot. The group had seized control of large swaths of territory in southern Yemen during the 2011 turmoil that accompanied an uprising against longtime authoritarian leader Ali Abdullah Saleh.
The military took back control of some areas last year, and Saleh stepped down. But government troops continue to battle pockets of al-Qaida fighters. In retaliation, militants affiliated with the group have been waging a bloody campaign against the security forces.
Two of the pilots, all of whom held the rank of air force colonel, were trainers, the officials said. They spoke anonymously because they are not authorized to speak to the media.
The gunmen fled the scene, the officials said. They say they suspect that the attackers had been monitoring the pilots’ route and schedule to plan their ambush.