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Suspected Al Qaeda militants kill 5 Yemeni soldiers at checkpoint

Aug. 10, 2013: In this file photo, a Yemeni soldiers checks a car at a checkpoint on a street leading to the U.S. and British embassies in Sanaa, Yemen. Gunmen believed to be from Al Qaeda killed five Yemeni soldiers early Sunday, Aug. 11, 2013 at a checkpoint in a southern province, attacking the surprised soldiers who were guarding oil and gas projects in the Radhum area of Shabwa province a Yemeni official said.

Aug. 10, 2013: In this file photo, a Yemeni soldiers checks a car at a checkpoint on a street leading to the U.S. and British embassies in Sanaa, Yemen. Gunmen believed to be from Al Qaeda killed five Yemeni soldiers early Sunday, Aug. 11, 2013 at a checkpoint in a southern province, attacking the surprised soldiers who were guarding oil and gas projects in the Radhum area of Shabwa province a Yemeni official said.  (AP)

Suspected Al Qaeda gunmen killed five soldiers early Sunday at a checkpoint in a southern province, a Yemeni official said, amid a stepped-up campaign of suspected U.S. drone strikes in the country.

The official said the attackers surprised the soldiers at their post guarding oil and gas projects in the Radhum area of Shabwa province.

The ambush follows a two-week-long spike in suspected U.S. drone strikes targeting Al Qaeda. Yemeni officials say nine attacks have killed 38 alleged militants.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity according to regulations.

Pipelines carrying oil and gas to coastal terminals in Yemen's mostly lawless south have been repeatedly attacked by Al Qaeda militants and tribes with whom they have ties. Yemeni officials also suspect tribesmen allied with former President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

The Radhum checkpoint is close to the Balhaf liquefied gas export terminal which was a target for a failed car bomb attack in June 2. The car exploded before it reached its target, killing only the attacker.

A Yemeni government spokesman said last week that the country had foiled a plot to target other oil ports on the coast.

The U.S. considers the local Al Qaeda branch, also known as Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, to be the world's most active. Washington last week flew diplomatic staff out of Yemen's capital over fears of a terrorist attack.