ADEN - Four suspected Islamist militants have been killed in a gunfight with Yemen's army and allied tribal fighters in the impoverished country's turbulent south, which has become al-Qaida's most formidable base, a local official said on Saturday.

Up to 50 militant fighters were battling government forces and their tribal allies near the town of Jaar, which the army recaptured in June after a 15-month occupation by Ansar al-Sharia.

The Islamist movement seized control of large swathes of southern Yemen during the turmoil caused by mass anti-government protests last year and gave shelter to al-Qaida, flying the international militant group's flag in captured towns.

The United States has used unmanned drones to target the al-Qaida group in Yemen, which has planned attacks on international targets including airliners and is described by Washington as the movement's most dangerous wing.

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