Drone strike kills three suspected militants in Yemen

ADEN (Reuters) - A drone strike killed three suspected al Qaeda militants in an overnight attack in central Yemen, a local official said on Saturday, as a U.S. campaign goes on amid a wider civil war in the country.

The apparent U.S. drone attack targeted a car traveling on Friday night in the Ruqot area of eastern Shabwa province, a remote desert area where al Qaeda militants are believed to be operating. It was the first such attack reported this year.

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has taken advantage of a conflict pitting Houthi militiamen against forces loyal to President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi to grab territory and operate more openly.

It seized control of two towns in southern Yemen at the beginning of December, deploying fighters on the streets and blowing up the house of a local tribal militia commander before withdrawing.

The United States has kept up a drone campaign against the militants, adding to near-daily air strikes by a Saudi-led Gulf Arab coalition, which intervened in the war last March to rout the Iran-backed Houthis and restore Hadi’s government.

Suspected U.S. drone strikes, which normally use Hellfire missiles, have killed some of AQAP’s top leaders, including its chief Nasser al-Wuhayshi last June.

Reporting by Mohammed Mukhashaf; Writing by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Helen Popper