A 4×4 vehicle, believed to be carrying Ibrahim al-Asiri, 32, mastermind of the ‘underwear bomb plot’, was engaged in a gun battle with special forces, dropped in by helicopter.
Witnesses have described seeing soldiers take up position in the road, waiting for the vehicle to pass before opening fire.
Those inside managed to shoot back, but all inside were reportedly killed as their car was pelted with bullets, The Times reports.
Troops took sniffer dogs with them as they identified those inside and later confirmed one was a ‘high value militant’. If al -Asiri is confirmed as among the dead, he would be the most senior al Qaeda member to be killed since Osama bin Laden in May 2011.
Al-Asiri is believed to be behind a range of explosive devices including pant bombs and liquid explosive implants which contain no metal parts making them virtually undetectable.
He was said to be the mastermind of the Christmas Day bomb plot, when a Nigerian man attempted unsuccessfully to detonate a device aboard a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit.
On Saturday and Sunday, several air strikes – thought to be carried out chiefly by U.S. drones – were launched on central and southern provinces of Yemen.
It is thought that the operation was launched from a undisclosed desert air base in eastern Saudi Arabia, close to the Yemeni border.