Al-Qaeda-linked suspects on Wednesday shot dead three air force generals from the strategic Al-Anad air base in the southern province of Lahij, the army said.
The ministry said that the officers were met “by a barrage of gunfire from two men on a motorbike”.
It identified them as three of the “most qualified pilots” — General Mohsen al-Meqdad, General Nasser al-Ban, and General Talal Shehab.
A military official at the base had told AFP that “gunmen shot dead three pilots … north of Huta (the provincial capital) as they were heading towards Al-Anad air base,” adding that the killers were “suspected of belonging to Al-Qaeda.”
The victims were earlier reported to be colonels.
The military official said that two gunmen carried out the attack using Kalashnikov assault rifles.
Officials said last year that Al-Anad air base was being used by US soldiers to train local forces in combating terrorism.
Al-Qaeda was driven out of most of its strongholds across Yemen’s south in an army offensive backed by US drone strikes last year.
At the peak of the offensive in May and June 2012, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula — classified by Washington as the global network’s deadliest branch — published a list of names of Yemeni pilots based at Al-Anad which it vowed to target for conducting air strikes against extremists’ hideouts.
Many officials named have since been killed. The names of the three officers killed on Wednesday did not feature on the list, however.
In October 2012, the Yemeni army foiled a car bomb attack on Al-Anad targeting American soldiers there, military officials said.
Police and army officers come under frequent attack, with authorities blaming Al-Qaeda for the assaults which are usually carried out by gunmen on unregistered motorbikes.
In a bid to clamp down on the increasing number of such attacks, authorities earlier this year launched a campaign ordering unlicensed bikes off the streets.