US drone strikes on Yemen province kill 9 Al-Qaeda suspects

SANAA (AFP) - Three US drone strikes killed nine suspected members of Al-Qaeda in the Yemen province of Marib, a tribal chief and witnesses said.

One raid late on Saturday targeted a vehicle transporting four suspected members of the jihadist network in Wadi Abida, east of the city of Marib, 170km east of Sanaa, the tribal source said.

"The bodies of the four dead were charred," he said, requesting anonymity, adding that only the body of Ismail bin Jamil, a local Al-Qaeda chief, was identified.

A witness said the car was engulfed in flames.

Another raid struck a vehicle in the same area, killing five people, including Hamad Hassan Ghreib, a member of Al-Qaeda, the tribal source later said, adding that all five belonged to the extremist group.

Local sources said two of the passengers were Saudi Qaeda militants.

A raid earlier in the evening targeted another vehicle transporting four people, but a rocket missed the car, allowing the passengers time to flee, a witness said.

The latest raids bring to at least 23 the number of people killed in US drone strikes since attacks were intensified on Dec 24.

Washington has been stepping up its support for Yemen's battle against militants in Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which it regards as the most active and deadliest franchise of the global network.

US drone strikes in Yemen nearly tripled last year compared to 2011, with 53 recorded against 18, according to the Washington-based think tank New America Foundation.

In a separate incident, up to 13 suspected members of Al-Qaeda were killed late on Saturday in the southern province of Bayda when they were making home-made bombs, sources said.

A tribal source said "13 members of Al-Qaeda were killed" in the accidental bomb blast.

A Yemeni security official Ali al-Mansuri told state news agency Saba that a series of explosions rocked the house of an Al-Qaeda militant identified as Ahmed Abdullah al-Dhahab.

"At least 10 members of Al-Qaeda, among them dangerous and foreign militants, were killed" in the explosion at a home where bombs were made in the town of Manaseh, in Bayda, he said.

"Other terrorist elements hurried to the site of the explosion following the incident to prevent people from approaching the house and finding out the exact number of people killed," said Mr Mansuri.

AQAP took advantage of the weakness of Yemen's central government during an uprising in 2011 against now ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh, seizing large swathes of territory across the south.

But after a month-long offensive launched in May last year by Yemeni troops, most militants fled to the more lawless desert regions of the east.

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