* Yemen says militant directed suicide bombers
* Al Qaeda-linked group behind Sanaa attack
* Residents say drone killed militant
SANAA, June 20 (Reuters) - Yemen's government says it has killed a militant Islamist who directed suicide bombers for an al Qaeda-linked group that has carried out a string of deadly attacks in the country.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has claimed responsibility for several attacks in the impoverished country, including a bombing at a military parade rehearsal in the capital Sanaa last month which killed about 100 people.
Yemen is several weeks into a U.S.-backed military offensive against militants who seized territory in the restive south last year during an uprising that forced former President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down.
President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who took office in February in a power transfer brokered by Saudi Arabia and blessed by Washington, has sworn to stamp out the Yemeni branch of al Qaeda, which has plotted attacks abroad.
The state news agency Saba said late on Tuesday that security forces had killed militant Salah al-Jawhari in the southern al-Bayda province, but did not elaborate.
However residents of the province's al-Yafea district gave a different version of events, saying a drone had fired missiles at al-Jawhari's vehicle - indicating it was a U.S. attack.
The United States has escalated its use of drones to kill suspected al Qaeda militants in the impoverished country.
Yemen said on Tuesday it had foiled a plot to attack foreign diplomatic missions in the capital. Saba quoted an official from Yemen's top security body as saying that security forces had arrested a man who was involved in that plot and also the attack on the parade rehearsal in Sanaa.
Yemeni troops last week regained control of several towns in the southern province of Abyan, which Islamist militants had seized last year.
But the assassination of a top southern military commander in the port city of Aden on Monday showed the militants are still capable of carrying out attacks and highlighted the tenuous grip of Yemen's central authorities on the south.
(Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari; Writing by Joseph Logan; Editing by Sami Aboudi and Pravin Char)
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