Aden: Three Yemeni civilians were killed when a drone attacked four suspected Al Qaida militants travelling in a vehicle in the southern part of the country, residents and a local official said on Monday.

Residents said the attack in Al Saeed area of Shabwa province on Sunday afternoon was by a United States drone, part of a campaign by President Donald Trump’s administration against Yemen’s Al Qaida branch.

They said Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) was known to operate in the area and had been targeted by US forces in recent months.

The vehicle was completely destroyed in the drone strike, which also hit three civilians who happened to be passing nearby, the residents and local officials said.

US drone strikes have become more frequent in recent weeks, with at least six reported by Reuters last month.

In late January, at least 30 people were killed in a US commando dawn raid in Southern Yemen, including at least 10 women and children, in the first such military operation authorised by President Donald Trump.

The previous administration regularly used drones to attack Daesh, Al Qaida and other militant groups in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Human rights groups criticise the tactic because of civilian casualties.

AQAP has exploited two years of civil war to recruit followers and cement its dominance in the central and southern part of Yemen, where a Saudi-led Arab coalition has been fighting the Iran-aligned Al Houthis to try to restore internationally-recognised president Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi to power.

Al Houthis seized much of northern Yemen including Sana’a in a series of lightning military operations that began in 2014, eventually forcing Hadi to flee.