ADEN (Reuters) - Two bombs went off at the gate of the local council headquarters in Yemen's southern city of Ma'ala, wounding two soldiers, the Defense Ministry said on Thursday.

The attackers, whose affiliation was not immediately clear, fled the scene and security forces defused a third bomb found at the building, the ministry said in a statement on its website.

Yemen, overlooking one of the world's busiest oil shipping routes, is plagued by poverty and lawlessness, which the toppling of veteran president Ali Abdullah Saleh after an Arab Spring uprising has done little to change.

The United States actively supports Yemen's attempts to control the Yemeni-based al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a group viewed by Washington as the most dangerous branch of the militant network established by Osama bin Laden.

Islamist militants frequently attack government facilities and officials as part of a campaign against the state, and tribesmen also frequently bomb gas and oil pipelines and attack government buildings as a way to press their demands.

(Reporting by Dhuyazen Mukhashaf; Writing by Rania El Gamal; Editing by Kevin Liffey)