Three al-Qaeda fighters, including "a senior figure", have been killed in south-central Yemen following a strike from an unmanned aircraft, security forces have told Al Jazeera. 

Moqbel Ebad Al Zawbah and his two companions were killed on Thursday while in a car in the province of Al Bayda, the sources said.

The Reuters news agency said the attack in Redaa was the fifth by a pilotless plane in the space of 10 days in the impoverished country, where the US has stepped up drone strikes against Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

AQAP exploited anti-government protests in 2011 to seize territory before being driven out by a military offensive last June.

"We have noticed a drone flying over for the past few days," a resident told Reuters.

He said the car in which the three men were killed was completely destroyed and their bodies were unrecognisable.

Yemeni officials who report the drone strikes will not be drawn on which nation is responsible.

But Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi spoke openly in favour of the drone strikes during a trip to the US in September.

Praised by the US ambassador in Sanaa as being more effective against al-Qaeda than his predecessor, Hadi was quoted as saying that he personally approved every attack.

Hadi has not commented on the most recent strikes.

Apparent miss

Last year, Washington stepped up attacks against AQAP, which is believed by Western governments to be the most active and dangerous wing of the global network, and has attempted a number of attacks against US targets.

Redaa was the scene in September of the killing of at least 10 civilians, including a 10-year-old girl, in an air strike that apparently missed its intended target, a car carrying fighters nearby, said tribal officials and residents.

A government official shortly afterwards said the attack was by a Yemeni aircraft, but some local people have said it was by a missile-firing drone.

In 2011, AQAP's offshoot, Ansar Al Sharia, seized a number of towns in the south that were retaken by the government in a US-backed offensive in June last year.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies