SANAA (Reuters) - At least four men suspected of being al Qaeda members were killed in what a local official said was a U.S. drone strike on Islamist militants in northern Yemen on Sunday.
It was a rare attack on al Qaeda-linked targets in northern Yemen, an area dominated by Shi'ite Muslim Houthi rebels battling Yemeni government forces for control of the rugged mountainous region.
The official said that a drone attacked two houses in the Abu Jabara area in Saada Province, killing four people.
Some reports suggested that Hadi al-Tais, a local al Qaeda commander, had been targeted in the attack, but there was no confirmation that he was among the dead.
The Yemeni Defense Ministry's website confirmed that three suspected militants, including two Saudi nationals, had been killed in an air strike, but did not elaborate.
U.S. drone strikes have regularly targeted al Qaeda militants in southern Yemen, where the group had exploited last year's protests against former President Ali Abdullah Saleh and seized swathes of territory before being driven out by an army offensive in June.
But it was the first report of an attack by a pilotless plane in the area near the Saudi border in northern Yemen.
Yemeni officials say hundreds of suspected al Qaeda militants, many of them veterans of the Afghan war against the Soviet occupation, have been operating in the area with tacit consent of Saleh, who ruled Yemen for more than three decades.
Saleh's critics say the former Yemeni president had used the militants in his repeated and unsuccessful attempts to crush the Houthis.
(Reporting by Mohamemd Ghobari, writing by Sami Aboudi, editing by Rosalind Russell)