SANAA (Reuters) - At least three suspected al Qaeda militants including a local commander were killed on Thursday in Yemen by a strike from an unmanned aircraft, residents and a local official said.
The attack in Redaa, in the southern al-Bayda province was the fifth by a pilotless plane in the space of 10 days in the impoverished country, where the United States has stepped up drone strikes against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
The strikes have all been in the south, where the group exploited anti-government protests in 2011 to seize territory before being driven out by a military offensive last June.
"We have noticed a drone flying over for the past few days," a resident told Reuters. He said the car in which the three militants were killed on Thursday was completely destroyed and their bodies were unrecognizable.
A local official said the commander's name was Muqbel al-Zubah.
Yemeni officials who report the drone strikes will not be drawn on which nation is responsible. But Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi spoke openly in favor of the drone strikes during a trip to the United States in September 2012.
Praised by the U.S. ambassador in Sanaa as being more effective against al Qaeda than his predecessor, Hadi was quoted as saying that he personally approved every attack. Hadi has not commented on the most recent strikes.
Washington stepped up attacks by unmanned aircraft last year. AQAP is believed by Western governments to be the most active and dangerous wing of the global network, and has attempted a number of attacks against U.S. targets.
Redaa was scene in September of the killing of at least 10 civilians including a 10-year-old girl in an air strike that apparently missed its intended target, a car carrying militants nearby, said tribal officials and residents.
A government official shortly afterwards said the attack was by a Yemeni aircraft, but some local people have said it was by a missile-firing drone.
In 2011 its offshoot, Ansar al-Sharia (Partisan of Islamic Law), seized a number of towns in the south that were retaken by the government in a U.S.-backed offensive in June.
(Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari; Writing by Mahmoud Habboush and William Maclean; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)