SANAA, Yemen (AP) A suspected U.S. drone strike killed four al-Qaida militants Saturday in a southern Yemeni province once overrun by the group, according to security officials.

The officials said the attack took place around dawn in an area called Deyqa in Abyan province. Officials spoke anonymously because they were not authorized to brief the media.

Yemeni forces battled al-Qaida in Abyan province last year, routing militants from major cities that al-Qaida had briefly ruled during the country's 2011 political turmoil. The militants fled to surrounding mountainous areas after Yemen's military, assisted by the United States, forced them to retreat.

According to several research groups and The Associated Press's own reporting, there has been a dramatic rise in such drone strikes in Yemen since the country's new U.S.-backed president assumed power early last year.

Washington says al-Qaida in Yemen is among the group's most dangerous and active branches worldwide.

The U.S. Ambassador to Yemen, Gerald Feierstein, met Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi on Saturday. Earlier this week, President Barack Obama extended an executive decision warning supporters of the country's former longtime ruler ousted after more than three decades in power by protests to stop hampering the political process or face having their assets frozen.


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Hadi also told Yemeni state TV Saturday that tampering of the country's military jets over the past year is the work of either al-Qaida or those wanting to sabotage the army, a reference to supporters of Saleh still in government and security posts.

He vowed an investigation into the incidents.

Seven military aircraft have been sabotaged while still on the ground, including at least two that were torched.

Additionally, just five days ago a military plane on a training exercise exploded in midair over the country's capital, killing the pilot. It was the third such jet crash since Hadi took power.