Yemeni security forces have foiled a plot by al-Qaeda to take over oil and gas export facilities, as well as a provincial capital in the eastern part of the country, a government official said yesterday.
Rajeh Badi, press adviser to Yemeni Prime Minister Mohammed Salem Basindwa, said the plan involved dozens of al-Qaeda militants dressed in Yemeni army uniforms storming the facilities on the night of the 27th day of the Muslim month of Ramadan, which was on Sunday.
“The plot aimed to seize the al-Dabbah oil export terminal in Hadramout [Province] and the Belhaf gas export facility, as well as the city of Mukalla,” Badi said, referring to the Hadramout provincial capital.
He said the plot was prevented by deploying extra troops around the targeted facilities and banning anyone from entering.
The US has evacuated some US diplomatic staff from Yemen and told nationals to leave the country immediately after warnings of potential attacks that had prompted Washington to shut missions across the Middle East.
Other Western countries, including Britain, France, Norway and the Netherlands, also closed their embassies in Sana’a and some evacuated their staff.
It was not immediately clear if the foiled plot was linked to these security measures.
In related news, a suspected US drone strike killed seven alleged al-Qaeda militants in southern Yemen yesterday, security officials and residents said.
It was the fifth strike in less than two weeks in Yemen.
The US has dramatically stepped up its use of drone strikes in Yemen in its covert fight against al-Qaeda there, which is considered one of the most active branches of the terror network. Washington has also been backing a Yemeni military campaign to uproot al-Qaeda militants and their radical allies, who had taken over a string of southern cities and towns.
The militants have largely been driven into the mountains and countryside, and Yemeni intelligence officials say the current threat may be retaliation for that offensive.
A US intelligence official and a Middle East diplomat said that the embassy closures were triggered by the interception of a secret message between al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahri and Nasser al-Wahishi, the leader of the Yemen-based al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, about plans for a major terror attack.
The drone strike killed the militants in Shabwa Province, setting two vehicles on fire, security officials said. All the officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
Residents in the province’s Markha area, who also declined to be identified because they feared retaliation, said they saw several bodies on fire in two burning cars.
Meanwhile, a reporter in Sana’a said a drone has been buzzing overhead for most of the day.
Authorities have set up checkpoints across Sana’a, searching cars and individuals. Top government officials, along with military and security commanders, have been told to stay vigilant and limit their movements.
While the US acknowledges its drone program in Yemen, it does not confirm individual strikes or release information on how many have been carried out.
The Yemeni army has surrounded foreign installations, government offices and the airport with tanks and troops in Sana’a, as well as the strategic Bab al-Mandeb Straits at the entrance to the Red Sea in the southern Arabian Peninsula.