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SANAA: Five suspected al Qaeda militants were killed and several others wounded in a US drone strike on Tuesday north of the Yemeni capital, tribal sources and witnesses said.

The missile attack targeted a group of militants in al Jawf province near the Saudi border, one tribal source said, as the death toll was revised from three dead.

Witnesses said they saw three burnt bodies after the strike and that unidentified vehicles sped away from the scene.

An air raid northeast of Sanaa on Monday killed four suspected al Qaeda militants, Yemen's interior ministry said, after tribal sources earlier said strikes by US drones killed two, apparently in reference to the same incident.

On Saturday, air raids attributed to a US drone killed nine suspected members of the group.

Tuesday's raid brings to at least 32 the number of people killed in suspected US drone strikes since December 24.

Strikes by US drones in Yemen nearly tripled in 2012 compared to 2011, with 53 recorded against 18, according to the Washington-based think-tank New America Foundation.

Washington has stepped up its support for Yemen's battle against militants of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which it regards as the most active and deadliest franchise of the global network.

The group 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.

Updated Jan 22, 2013 08:03pm

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