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Four Qaeda militants killed in U.S. drone strike

ADEN (Reuters) - Four al Qaeda-linked militants were killed in an apparent U.S. drone strike on Thursday in a remote part of the south of Yemen, a security official and residents said.

The security official and residents said the militants were killed in an air strike on their vehicles in the isolated area of Maqbala in Shabwa province. They said it was a drone strike.

The militants were heavily armed, carrying weapons and explosives, said the official, who declined to be named. Two militants were wounded and another fled the scene after the strike, the official added.

Yemen, a U.S. ally, has been in upheaval since a popular uprising ousted veteran president Ali Abdullah Saleh in February. Overlooking one of the world's busiest oil shipping routes, Yemen is plagued by poverty and lawlessness that the toppling of Saleh has done little to change.

Washington, which has pursued a campaign of assassination by drone and missile against suspected al Qaeda members, backed a military offensive in May to recapture areas of Abyan province - which borders Shabwa province - from Islamist insurgents.

But militants have struck back with a series of bombings and killings.

Earlier on Thursday, the Defense Ministry said two bombs went off at the gate of the local council headquarters in Yemen's southern city of Ma'ala, wounding two soldiers.

The attackers, whose affiliation was not immediately clear, fled the scene and security forces defused a third bomb found at the building, the ministry said in a statement on its website.

Islamist militants frequently attack government facilities and officials as part of a campaign against the state, and tribesmen also frequently bomb gas and oil pipelines and attack government buildings as a way to press their demands.

The Yemen-based al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is viewed by Washington as the most dangerous branch of the militant network established by Osama bin Laden.

(Reporting by Dhuyazen Mukhashaf; Writing by Rania El Gamal; Editing by Alison Williams)

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