SANAA (Reuters) - A U.S. drone attack in Yemen killed four suspected al Qaeda militants on Saturday in the southern province of Shabwa, local Yemeni security officials told Reuters.

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is considered one of the most powerful branches of the global militant group and claimed responsibility for deadly shootings in Paris on Jan. 7.

The attack targeted militants traveling in two vehicles in the Bihan region of Shabwa province, a local security official said, adding that several other suspected militants were injured.

For years, the United States has cooperated with Yemeni security forces to track and bomb AQAP members - a strategy that rights groups have criticized for causing repeated civilian deaths.

The United States and its allies in the region have long worried that Yemen's political instability could allow AQAP to flourish and launch attacks overseas.

Nineteen U.S. drone strikes killed 124 militants and four civilians in Yemen in 2014, according to the New America Foundation, which maintains a database of drone operations.

(Reporting by Mohamed Ghobari; Writing by Amena Bakr; Editing by Hugh Lawson)