Three suspected al-Qaeda fighters have been killed in a drone strike in Yemen’s central province of Maareb, security officials have said.

"The air raid was conducted by a US drone plane which targeted a house in the Maareb province, killing three people inside who are suspected to be members of al-Qaeda," a local official told the Reuters news agency.

Another official told the AFP news agency that Saturday's attack hit a house in the Obeida Valley, where the group has a strong presence.

Meanwhile, a website affiliated to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) confirmed earlier reports that fighters had killed 14 soldiers on Friday near the city of Shibam in the eastern Hadramawt province.

The website published pictures of the fighters checking the IDs of the soldiers after ordering them out of a bus that was taking them to Sanaa, the capital, for their holidays from the city of Sayoun, AFP said.

An Internet posting late on Friday, said: "The captive soldiers participated in the latest campaign against Sunni Muslims in Wadi Hadramout, and thus the mujahideen decided to kill them as a punishment for their crimes."

In the past week, Yemeni security forces have killed at least 25 suspected al-Qaeda fighters in clashes in Wadi Hadramout, including seven who were killed on Thursday when they tried to attack an army facility.

US support against fighters

The US considers AQAP one of the most dangerous wings of al-Qaeda and lends financial and logistical support to Yemen's government and military, including regular drone strikes.

Stability in Yemen, one of the poorest countries in the Arab world, is of international concern because it borders major international shipping lanes and lies next to Saudi Arabia, the world's largest oil exporter.

Taking advantage of a power vacuum that arose during a 2011 uprising against the then President Ali Abdullah Saleh, fighters took over several southern towns and districts but were later repelled by a US-backed military offensive.

In recent months, fighters have been trying to consolidate their control over remote and volatile parts of eastern Yemen such as Wadi Hadramout.

Source: Agencies