epa03938357 A Yemeni boy looks at a graffiti depicting a US drone at a street in Sana’a, Yemen, 06 November 2013. Reports state the US launched at least 92 drone strikes on suspected al-Qaeda militants in Yemen between 2002 and mid-2013, killing between 680 and 880 people, including at least 60 civilians. EPA/YAHYA ARHAB Image Credit: EPA

Sana’a: Five suspected Al Qaida fighters have been killed by two drone strikes in Yemen’s southern province of Abyan, the country’s interior ministry said on Friday.

A ministry statement said the militants were killed on Thursday but did not say whether the drones were launched by Yemen or the United States. However, local officials in Abyan, which was a stronghold for Yemen-based Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and other militant groups during an uprising that ousted veteran President Ali Abdullah Saleh last year, told Reuters the drones were American.

AQAP is regarded by the United States as one of the most active wings of the militant network, posing a serious threat to Western interests including oil tanker traffic in the Gulf.

In September, suspected Al Qaida militants launched dawn attacks in Yemen killing at least 56 security personnel in the deadliest assault on troops since the army retook jihadist strongholds last year. It was the boldest attack since since May 21, 2012 when some 100 soldiers were killed and hundreds more wounded in a suicide bombing in the capital. AQAP claimed that attack in a statement posted on jihadist internet forums. But in June 2012, the army recaptured large swathes of the south which Al Qaida had held for nearly a year, taking advantage of the weakness of central authority during the 2011 uprising that forced out veteran president Saleh.

Since then, AQAP has carried out mainly hit-and-run attacks as its militants have come under mounting attack by US drones. The US regularly unleashes drone strikes against AQAP in a campaign that has been criticised by rights groups as executing suspects without trial, while civilians have often been hit.