UPDATE 1-U.S. drone attack kills 6 suspected militants in Yemen

Wed Sep 5, 2012 8:44am EDT

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(Updates death toll, adds attack on tribal leader)

ADEN, Yemen, Sept 5 (Reuters) - A U.S drone strike killed six suspected Islamist militants in eastern Yemen on Wednesday, a security official said, the latest sign of a Washington-backed campaign against al Qaeda-linked fighters in the impoverished country.

The drone fired eight missiles at a house where fighters were thought to be hiding in the Wadi al-Ain area of Hadramout province, a witness told Reuters. Eight people managed to escape, the witness added.

Washington, concerned about the spread of militancy in the Arabian Peninsula, has stepped up attacks by unmanned aircraft this year.

Wednesday's strike was the fourth reported in Hadramout in two weeks.

Islamist militants gained ground in Yemen and took control of several towns during an uprising which forced President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down in February.

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is one of at least two militant groups based in Yemen. It has mounted operations in neighboring Saudi Arabia and attempted to launch attacks against the United States.

On Sunday, ten civilians including a 10-year-old girl were killed by a Yemeni government air strike that apparently missed its intended target, a car carrying militants nearby, said tribal officials and residents.

Government officials met tribal leaders in the central city of Redaa where the attack happened and agreed to pay compensation to the families of the victims, a tribal source told Reuters.

A tribal leader said suspected Al Qaeda militants opened fire on his car in the southern province of Abyan on Wednesday.

"My vehicle got attacked following a meeting I had with tribal heads on how to control militant action," said Mohammed Sokeen, head of a tribal council that was set up earlier this year to deal with militancy in Abyan. He was not injured.

Yemen's army, backed by the United States, has forced militants out of some areas this year. But Islamist groups have hit back with a series of suicide bombings on government institutions. (Reporting by Dhuyazen Mukhashaf and Mohamed Ghobari; Editing by Amena Bakr and Andrew Heavens)

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