DUBAI (Reuters) - A senior leader of Yemen's al Qaeda branch was killed on Thursday in a raid by a U.S. drone strike in central Yemen, an official of the exiled government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi said.

The official said Abdallah al-Sanaani, a regional commander in Al Qaeda in Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), was killed along with his bodyguard while traveling in a vehicle in the al-Sawma'a district of al-Bayda province.

"He was killed, along with an escort, and the vehicle was completely burned," the official, who asked not to be named, told Reuters.

The United States has been using drones to target the Islamist militant group, which has exploited Yemen's civil war to carve out a foothold in the impoverished country.

U.S. officials have said AQAP is one of the most potent security threats in the Middle East. The group, whose attacks have mainly targeted the Yemeni government and the Iran-allied Houthi group, claimed responsibility for an attack last year on the Paris office of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

(The story was refiled to correct the name of the province in para 2.)

(Reporting by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Gareth Jones)