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SANAA/ADEN Yemen (Reuters) - Three Yemeni soldiers and two al Qaeda militants were killed when security forces foiled an attack by insurgents in the eastern province of Hadramout on Thursday, medical sources said.

The state news agency Saba said security forces had confronted al Qaeda militants who had placed three car bombs in the Hadramout provincial capital of al-Mukallah. It said several militants were killed and several soldiers wounded.

"The fighters ... managed to destroy three car bombs in the Sitteen street in al-Mukallah before they reached their targets," Saba said, quoting a military source.

Ansar al-Sharia, an al Qaeda-affiliated group in Yemen, claimed the attack on a Twitter account. Reuters was not immediately able to verify the authenticity of the account.

The group said last week it killed 14 soldiers in an eastern province as revenge for an army offensive against its members.

The Yemeni army had sent extra troops to the Wadi Hadramout region in northeastern Yemen to counter attempts by militant group Ansar al Sharia to declare an Islamic emirate in the city of Seiyoun.

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) exploited a power vacuum wrought by the 2011 uprising that eventually ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh to carve out areas of dominance in south and east Yemen. Since then, AQAP has repeatedly attacked state institutions, including army camps and state buildings across the U.S.-allied country, killing hundreds of people.

Apart from the fight against al Qaeda, the government faces a campaign by southern separatists for independence and battles rebels from the Shi'ite Muslim Houthi movement, which is trying to extend its control over the north.

A U.S. ally, with a population of 25 million, Yemen is trying to end three years of political unrest, which began when mass protests erupted in 2011 against Ali Abdullah Saleh, the president of 33 years, who stepped down.

(Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari and Mohammed Mukhashaf; Writing by Yara Bayoumy)

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Reuters