Sana’a: Seven suspected Al Qaida members, including two Saudis, were killed in a US drone attack on Wednesday in a village east of the Yemeni capital, a security source said.

“The drone targeted a vehicle killing the seven people on board” in Jahana, a village in the Khawlan tribal region, 30 kilometres from Sana’a, the source said.

He said the vehicle was headed for Sanaa with two Saudis among the Al Qaida suspects on board.

Four missiles targeted the vehicle on the road link Marib province with the capital, a tribal source said, giving a death toll of six.

Amid an escalation in such attacks, five suspected Al Qaida militants were killed in a US drone strike on Tuesday near the Saudi border north of the Yemeni capital, tribal sources and witnesses said.

And an air raid northeast of Sanaa on Monday killed four Al Qaida suspects, Yemen’s interior ministry said. Last Saturday, air raids attributed to a US drone killed nine suspected members of the group.

Wednesday’s raid brings to at least 38 the number of people killed in suspected US drone strikes since December 24.

Strikes by US drones in Yemen nearly tripled in 2012 compared to 2011, with 53 recorded against 18, according to the Washington-based think-tank New America Foundation.

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

The group 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.