SANAA // Three US drone strikes killed nine suspected members of Al Qaeda in the Yemen province of Marib, a tribal chief and witnesses said today.
One raid late on Saturday targeted a vehicle transporting four suspected members of the jihadist network in Wadi Abida, east of the city of Marib, 170 kilometres east of Sanaa, the tribal source said.
"The bodies of the four dead were charred," he said, requesting anonymity, adding that only the body of Ismail bin Jamil, a local Al Qaeda chief, was identified.
A witness said that a car was engulfed in flames.
Another raid struck a vehicle in the same area killing five people including Hamad Hassan Ghreib, a member of Al Qaeda, the tribal source later said, adding that all five belonged to the extremist group.
Local sources said that two of the passengers were Saudi Al Qaeda militants.
A raid earlier in the evening targeted another vehicle transporting four people, but a rocket missed the car allowing the passengers time to flee, a witness said.
The latest raids bring to at least 23 the number of people killed in US drone strikes since attacks were intensified on December 24.
Washington has been stepping up its support for Yemen's battle against Al Qaeda militants in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which it regards as the most active and deadliest franchise of the global network.
US drone strikes in Yemen nearly tripled in 2012 compared to 2011, with 53 recorded against 18, according to the Washington-based think tank New America Foundation.
AQAP 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.