SANAA, Jan 24 (Reuters) - Three suspected al Qaeda militants were killed in Maarib province, east of the Yemeni capital Sanaa, in what local officials and tribal sources said was a strike by a U.S. drone late on Thursday.
They said the suspects were hit as they were travelling in a car in the Wadi Obaida area, in the oil-producing Maarib province. Several explosions were heard, witnesses said, after which they saw a car on fire with three burnt bodies inside it.
The United States has stepped up drone strikes as part of a campaign against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), regarded by Washington as the most active wing of the network.
Yemen, AQAP's main stronghold, is among a handful of countries where the United States acknowledges using drones, although it does not comment on the practice.
Last month, at least 15 people were killed and five others injured when a drone struck a wedding party travelling in the central Yemeni province of al-Bayda. The intended target was senior al Qaeda militants.
Stabilising Yemen, which is also struggling with southern separatists and northern rebels, is an international priority amid fears of upheaval in a state that flanks top oil producer Saudi Arabia and major shipping lanes. (Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari; Writing by Rania El Gamal; Editing by Mike Collett-White)