A U.S. drone strike in southern Yemen killed at least nine suspected al-Qaida militants and three civilians Saturday, authorities said, part of America's ongoing strikes in the country against what it considers the terror network's most dangerous local group.
A Yemeni military official said the early Saturday strike struck a vehicle carrying the militants in the Sawmaa area in the al-Bayda province as another car carrying civilians passed by.
A security official investigating the strike said one of the civilian survivors said the strike hit a white SUV, tossing it some 20 meters (21 yards) away. He said the survivor said they fled the flying debris and took shelter while "explosions" continued for another 30 minutes.
Then, the survivor said, another drone fired neared their car, killing one of his companions and wounded him.
A medical official said that the strike had killed three civilians and wounded three.
The medical and security officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief reporters.
The U.S. considers Yemen's branch of al-Qaida, also known as Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, to be the most dangerous in the world. The group is blamed for a number of unsuccessful bomb plots aimed at Americans, including an attempt to bring down a U.S.-bound airliner with explosive hidden in the bomber's underwear and a second plot to send mail bombs hidden in the toner cartridges on planes headed to the U.S.
It overran much of the south in 2011. Yemen's army, supported by U.S. military experts and drone strikes, has pushed them back, but clashes continue.
However, civilian casualties in the strikes have sparked anger in the country and among human rights groups. According to the nonpartisan public policy institute New America Foundation, the U.S. has launched 99 drone strikes in Yemen since 2002.
There was no immediate U.S. comment on the strike. The U.S. will acknowledge drone strikes carried out by its military, but typically not those done in CIA operations.