DUBAI (Reuters) - Nine suspected al Qaeda militants were killed in what a security source and residents said was a U.S. drone attack on a farmhouse outside a town in southern Yemen that was held by militants last year.
The farmhouse just west of Jaar, one of two southern towns that Yemen's army took back from rebel control this summer, was hit by three separate missile strikes at dawn, they said.
The residents said they found six charred bodies and the scattered remains of three other people, including Nader al-Shaddadi, a senior al Qaeda militant in the southern Abyan province who led the group that occupied Jaar.
The security source confirmed that Shaddadi was among the dead and that four others were from the town of Jaar. He said two of the men were wearing explosive belts, suggesting they were planning suicide attacks on Thursday.
Yemen, where al Qaeda militants exploited a security vacuum during last year's uprising against Ali Abdullah Saleh, has seen an intensified campaign of U.S. missile strikes in recent months, often using the pilotless aircraft known as drones.
Interim president Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, praised by the U.S. ambassador in Sanaa as being more effective against al Qaeda than his predecessor, was quoted as saying during a U.S. trip last month that he personally approved every attack.
While Washington usually avoids comment on the strikes in Yemen, the UK-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which tracks U.S. operations, says as many as 56 civilians have been killed this year by drones.
Many Yemenis complain the U.S. focus on militants is a violation of sovereignty that is driving many towards al Qaeda and diverting attention from other pressing issues such as unemployment, corruption, water depletion and economic revival.
Western diplomats in Sanaa say al Qaeda is a threat to Yemen and the rest of the world. The group has tried to kill Saudi officials and send explosive packages to the United States.
Reporting by Mohammed Mukhashaf; Writing by Andrew Hammond; Editing by Louise Ireland and Sami Aboudi