Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.

An air strike killed 12 people, including 9 al Qaeda members, in the central Yemeni province of al-Bayda on Saturday, a Yemen Ministry of Interior spokesman told NBC News.

Tribal sources said a drone had been circling the region for days. They said the drone struck two cars early Saturday that the suspected militants were in, and that three civilians in a nearby car also were killed.

Yemen's Defense Ministry website quoted a security source as saying a number of "terrorists" had been killed in the air strike. The air strike also killed 3 civilians, and wounded 5 civilians.

Yemenis look at a pickup truck after it was allegedly hit by a U.S. drone in Yemen's al-Bayda province on Saturday.STRINGER / EPA

The United States has stepped up drone strikes as part of a campaign against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which is based in Yemen and regarded by Washington as one of the most lethal wings of the militant group.

Yemen is among a handful of countries where the United States acknowledges using drones, although it does not comment on the practice.

Earlier this week, suspected al Qaeda militants shot dead the deputy governor of al-Bayda as he was leaving his home, according to a security official.

Al-Bayda has seen serious security incidents in the past. In December, 15 people on their way to a wedding were killed by an air strike after their party was apparently mistaken for an al Qaeda convoy, according to security officials.

The Yemeni government said in a statement at the time that senior al Qaeda militants were targeted in the air strike. It did not say who carried out the attack.

Reuters contributed to this report.