ADEN, Yemen — A suspected US spy drone crashed near the south Yemen town of Loder on Tuesday before Al-Qaeda gunmen made off with the wreckage, a police official and witnesses said.
The drone crashed in Jahayn village near Loder, in Yemen's Abyan province where Al-Qaeda has a strong presence, and was found by local residents, the official told AFP.
Witnesses said residents called in police, who collected the debris.
But as they headed to a police station about 30 kilometres (18 miles) away, Al-Qaeda gunmen in cars intercepted the police and hijacked the wreckage. There were no reports of casualties.
The police official said the drone was a Predator, which is used for reconnaissance but can also be armed with missiles. The US military has widely used Predator drones in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he believed the drone was "monitoring the movements of Al-Qaeda partisans, who have a strong presence" in Loder.
Government forces and alleged Al-Qaeda militants fought a deadly battle in Loder in late August.
At least 33 people -- 19 militants, 11 soldiers, and three civilians -- were killed in the fighting, according to an AFP tally based on official and medical sources.
The Washington Post reported in November that President Barack Obama's administration had deployed unmanned Predator drones in Yemen to hunt for Al-Qaeda operatives.
But citing unnamed senior US officials, the paper said US military and intelligence operatives have not fired missiles from the drones because they lack solid intelligence on the militants' whereabouts.
Yemen has come under intense pressure to crack down on Al-Qaeda's local franchise, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, since a December 2009 attempt to blow up a US airliner that was claimed by AQAP.
And two parcel bombs on passenger planes posted from Yemen and addressed to synagogues in Chicago were uncovered in Dubai and Britain last October 28, sparking a global scare.