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By Mohammed Mukhashaf
ADEN (Reuters) - An al Qaeda-affiliated group in Yemen said it killed 14 soldiers in an eastern province as revenge for an army offensive against its members, while a U.S. drone attack killed three suspected militants in central Yemen on Saturday, an official said.
The Yemeni army has 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.
In the past week, Yemeni security forces have killed at least 25 suspected militants in clashes in Wadi Hadramout, including seven who were killed on Thursday when they tried to attack an army facility.
Residents and officials said people in the area found the bodies of the 14 soldiers riddled with bullets on a road near Seiyoun, three hours after they were abducted from a public bus.
The soldiers were on their way to Sanaa, on leave after serving in the area.
Ansar al-Sharia, in an internet posting late on Friday, confirmed its militants had ambushed and killed the soldiers for taking part in military operations against the group.
"...The captive soldiers participated in the latest campaign against Sunni Muslims in Wadi Hadramout, and thus the mujahideen decided to kill them as a punishment for their crimes," the statement said.
The group posted pictures of the soldiers in civilian clothes surrounded by militants concealing their faces with traditional head dresses.
On Saturday, three suspected al Qaeda militants in the central province of Maareb were killed in a U.S. drone, a local official told Reuters.
"The air raid was conducted by a U.S. drone plane which targeted a house in the Maareb province, killing three people inside who are suspected to be members of al Qaeda," he said.
The United States considers al Qaeda in Yemen one of the most dangerous wings of the militant network founded by Osama bin Laden. In recent years it has made several attempts to carry out international attacks.
To counter the group, Washington lends financial and logistical support to the Yemen's government and military, including regular drone strikes.
Stability in Yemen, one of the poorest countries in the Arab World, is of international concern because it borders major international shipping lanes and lies next to Saudi Arabia, the world's largest oil exporter.
Taking advantage of a power vacuum that arose during a 2011 uprising against the then President Ali Abdullah Saleh, militants took over several southern towns and districts but were later repelled by a U.S. backed military offensive.
In recent months, militants have been trying to consolidate their control over remote and volatile parts of eastern Yemen such as Wadi Hadramout.
In Seiyoun, the group had been distributing leaflets suggesting they wanted to establish an Islamic emirate and ordered women not to go out without a male guardian.
(Reporting by Mohammed Mukhashaf and Mohammed Ghobari; Writing by Sami Aboudi and Amena Bakr; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)