SANAA, Dec 30 (Reuters) - At least three al Qaeda-linked militants were killed in the southern Yemeni province of al-Bayda late on Saturday in an apparent drone strike, government and tribal sources said.
Dozens of suspected militants including al Qaeda members have been killed in recent months, many in strikes by pilotless aircraft, as the Yemeni government pursues a U.S.-backed effort to counter Islamist fighters mostly operating in the south.
"Their bodies were charred and the car was completely obliterated," a tribesman who rushed to the scene told Reuters. "Their bodies were not recognizable, but the government says they're from al Qaeda."
The state news agency, Saba, reported that the militants were "elements of al Qaeda." A defence ministry website said the slain militants included a man it described as a senior al Qaeda operative named Saleh Mohammed al-Ameri.
Yemen's stability is a leading security concern of the United States and Gulf Arab allies because of its strategic position next to top oil exporter Saudi Arabia and shipping lanes, and because it is home to one of the most active wings of the al Qaeda network.
There has been an uptick in the past week in aerial attacks on al Qaeda in southern provinces, where the group exploited anti-government protests last year to seize swathes of territory before being driven out by a military offensive in June.
Two suspected al Qaeda-linked insurgents were killed in a drone strike in eastern Hadramout province on Friday, a local security official said. On Dec. 24, at least five people were killed in two drone strikes in Hadramout and al Bayda provinces in the first such strikes in almost two months.
(Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari; Writing by Mahmoud Habboush and William Maclean; Editing by Will Dunham)