SANAA (Reuters) - A U.S. drone killed three suspected al Qaeda militants in east Yemen, a local official said, the third strike within 24 hours as Washington intensifies efforts to eradicate al Qaeda's Yemeni branch after recent warnings of possible attacks.
The three men were travelling in a vehicle in the province of Hadramout in an area called Ghail Bawazeer, 45 km (28 miles) from the provincial capital Mukalla, when they were targeted by the drone on Thursday night, the official told Reuters.
Residents reported hearing a large explosion and later saw the car destroyed.
Yemen said on Wednesday it had foiled a plot by al Qaeda to seize Mukalla, a port city on the Gulf of Aden, as well as two major oil and gas export terminals.
This announcement came after intelligence on potential attacks by militants prompted Washington to shut missions across the Middle East, and the United States and Britain to evacuate staff from Yemen.
Earlier on Thursday, 14 militants died in two drone strikes in the central Yemeni province of Maarib. At least 28 al Qaeda suspects have been killed by drones in the past two weeks, a marked increase in the frequency of such strikes.
Security in Yemen is of regional and global importance. As the base for al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), considered one of the most aggressive branches of the global militant organization, Yemen shares a long border with Saudi Arabia, a U.S. ally and the world's top oil exporter.
AQAP has carried out attacks in Saudi Arabia and has made several attempts on U.S. targets. In 2009, Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who had been trained by AQAP in Yemen, tried to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner with a bomb in his underpants.
(Reporting by Mohamed Ghobari, writing by Raissa Kasolowsky, editing by Mark Heinrich)