Drone strike kills four suspected Al Qaeda militants in Yemen

DUBAI, Dec 22 (Reuters) - A U.S. drone strike killed four suspected Al Qaeda militants in central Yemen on Tuesday, tribal sources told Reuters, in the first such attack since September.

The drone attack took place against the background of Yemen’s wider conflict involving Houthi militiamen and groups loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh against forces supporting exiled President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, which Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has sought to exploit.

The drone strike targeted the men’s car as they drove through Nata district on the road linking Bayda and Shabwa provinces, destroying the vehicle and leaving four charred bodies inside, the sources said.

The Al Qaeda affiliate took over two towns in southern Yemen at the beginning of the month, 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 in March to rout the Iran-backed Houthis and restore Hadi’s exiled government.

The drone attacks have killed some of AQAP’s top leaders, including its chief, Nasser al-Wuhayshi, in June. (Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari, Writing by Katie Paul; Editing by Richard Balmforth)