A top Al Qaeda leader who planned and executed the killings and kidnappings of foreigners in Yemen was killed Wednesday in a counterterrorism operation, Yemeni officials said.

Wael Abdallah Masoud al-Waeli, a top leader in the Al Qaeda terrorist organization in Yemen, was also responsible for the assassination of French national working for the European Union in the region and the kidnapping of Dutch journalist Judith Spiegal and her spouse. He was killed by Yemen’s elite counter-terrorism unit, which tracked the leader and militants to their hideout, officials said.

The unit refrained from raiding the terrorist’s “house late last night due to the presence of women and children,” said Mohammed Albasha, a spokesman for the Yemeni Embassy in Washington, D.C.

“Security personnel tracked the cell while it was on the move today and at 10 a.m. engaged their vehicle,” the spokesman said. “Al-Waeli was killed with another suspected militant, Hassan Abdo Ubadah, while [a Yemeni counterterrorism unit] was able to detain a suspected third militant, Ahmed Ubadah.”

Al-Waeli, who had close ties to deceased American-born Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, also attempted to kidnap two foreign nationals at a local barber shop and planned an assassination of a German diplomat.

He was also involved in “a recent attack on Sanaa’s central prison that lead to the freeing of over a dozen AQAP militants,” Albasha said, referring to the Al Qaeda offshoot Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsuala, also known as Ansar al-Sharia.

Albasha said the operation comes in the midst of an “unprecedented offensive” by the Yemeni military against the Al Qaeda offshoot.

“Army units backed by mechanized battalions, air force and Yemeni special forces have killed, wounded and captured dozens of local and foreign AQAP militants,” Albasha said. “Numerous hideouts for the manufacture of [roadside bombs, car bombs] and suicide vests have been discovered, while a number of AQAP-owned vehicles, ammunition and weapons have been seized or destroyed. Territories in Azzan and Mahfad, two of AQAP’s main strongholds, have been recaptured by the army.”

According to Yemeni officials, locals are informing authorities about the whereabouts of Al Qaeda militants.

They have reported finding foreign fighters among the dead after military operations, including fighters from Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Chechnya, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Somalia.

Follow Sara A. Carter (@SaraCarterDC) on Twitter.