Three suspected al Qaeda members killed in drone strikes in Yemen: officials

SANAA (Reuters) - Three suspected members of al Qaeda’s Yemen branch were killed on Sunday by what local officials said they believed were two separate U.S. drone strikes.

If confirmed, they would be the first such attacks since U.S. President Donald Trump assumed office on Friday.

In the first strike two men were killed when a missile hit the vehicle in which they were travelling in the al-Soumaa district of southern al-Bayda province, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The second strike, also on a car in al-Soumaa, killed another man suspected of membership in al Qaeda, according to one official and local tribal leaders.

The United States conducted dozens of drone strikes throughout Barack Obama’s presidency to combat al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, regarded as one of the global militant group’s most dangerous branches.

The Obama administration also regularly used drones to attack Islamic State, al Qaeda and other militant groups in Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan and other countries, with the controversial tactic criticised by human rights groups over reports of civilian casualties.

The Trump administration has not yet laid out a clear policy on drone strikes, but Trump has said that he would support an escalation of the fight against Islamist militant groups.

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has exploited Yemen’s civil war to carve out a foothold in the Arabian Peninsula’s poorest country.

Several leaders of the group have been killed by drone strikes in recent years, most recently in December.

Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari; Writing by Katie Paul; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle, Greg Mahlich