UPDATE 1-Air strike kills 15 civilians in Yemen by mistake -officials

Fri Dec 13, 2013 7:15am IST

(Adds comments from U.S. official, paragraphs 5-6)

SANAA Dec 12 (Reuters) - Fifteen people on their way to a wedding in Yemen were killed in an air strike after their party was mistaken for an al Qaeda convoy, local security officials said on Thursday.

The officials did not identify the plane in the strike in central al-Bayda province, but tribal and local media sources said that it was a drone.

"An air strike missed its target and hit a wedding car convoy, ten people were killed immediately and another five who were injured died after being admitted to the hospital," one security official said.

Five more people were injured, the officials said.

A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, acknowledged media reports about members of a wedding party getting killed in a counterterrorism strike.

"We have no information that corroborates these reports," the official said, without elaborating.

The United States has stepped up drone strikes as part of a campaign against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), regarded by Washington as the most active wing of the militant network.

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

Human Rights Watch said in a detailed report in August that U.S. missile strikes, including armed attacks, have killed dozens of civilians in Yemen.

Stabilising the country, which is also struggling with southern separatists and northern rebels, is an international priority due to fears of disorder in a state that flanks top oil producer Saudi Arabia and major shipping lanes.

On Monday, missiles fired from a U.S. drone killed at least three people travelling in a car in eastern Yemen. (Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari; Additional reporting by Phil Stewart in Washington; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall and Mohammad Zargham)

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