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Blast, drones kill 16 al Qaeda-linked militants in Yemen

SANAA (Reuters) - More than 10 suspected al Qaeda operatives were killed by an explosion in a house in south Yemen where they were making bombs, and at least six others died in two strikes from U.S. drones, tribal and official sources said on Sunday.

A bomb ripped through a house in the province of al-Bayda on Saturday night, the state news agency Saba and a local official said.

Strikes by suspected U.S. drone aircraft killed three people on Saturday and another three on Sunday in two parts of central Maarib province, tribal and government sources said.

The Yemeni Defence Ministry said in an SMS text message that a number of militants were killed in two air strikes but gave no further details.

The United States never comments on strikes by its pilotless aircraft, which it has used to hunt militants in Yemen for years. The Yemeni government allows U.S. strikes but usually does not comment on the U.S. role in specific incidents.

Yemen's government has been fighting a powerful branch of al Qaeda that grew in power and influence amid chaos in the impoverished state two years ago during a popular uprising against former President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is considered by Western governments to be one of the most active and dangerous wings of the global network founded by Osama bin Laden and has attempted a number of attacks against U.S. targets.

The house destroyed in al Bayda had been used for making bombs, an official from the area told Reuters on Sunday.

"We heard a massive explosion that terrified people and when we went to the house it was destroyed and everyone there was dead," the official said.

In Maarib, a pilotless plane carried out two strikes against a car on Saturday, a witness said.

"One of the strikes missed the target and the other hit the car and left the bodies of the three people in it completely charred," the witness told Reuters by telephone from the area.

He said unidentified people evacuated the bodies while tribesmen blocked the main road linking the capital of Maarib province with Sanaa on Saturday after the strikes.

The strike on Sunday took place in the Al Shabwan region of the province, the tribal and government sources said.

Earlier this month, dozens of armed tribesmen took to the streets in southern Yemen to protest drones they said killed innocent civilians and fed anger against the United States.

President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi spoke openly in favor of the strikes during a trip to the United States in September.

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

AQAP offshoot, Ansar al-Sharia (Partisan of Islamic Law), seized a number of towns in the south in 2011. Yemeni government forces retook the areas in a U.S.-backed offensive in June.

(Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari; Writing by Mahmoud Habboush; Editing by Sami Aboudi, Alison Williams and Jason Webb)

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