A suspected American drone in Yemen's south has targeted a car reportedly carrying al-Qaeda fighters, killing all five passengers, Yemeni security officials said.

The officials said the attack on Saturday took place in a mountainous area in Mafraq al-Saeed area in the southern Shabwah province, about 458km southeast of the capital, Sanaa. 

One of those killed in the attack was a suspected al-Qaeda leader named Musaad al-Habashi, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak to the press.

The United States considers al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to be the group's most dangerous branch in the world and has linked it to a number of botched or foiled attacks on the US homeland.

The US, which trains Yemen's counterterrorism forces, has launched more than 100 drone strikes against suspected al-Qaeda targets in the impoverished country since 2002, according to the New America Foundation, a non-partisan public policy institute.

The armed group overran large swathes of territory in southern Yemen in 2011, taking advantage of political turmoil that forced longtime leader Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down.

The Yemeni military over the past few weeks has stepped up an offensive to rout the fighters from their strongholds.

Source: Agencies