Saturday, March 31, 2012

Yemen pipeline sabotaged in drone retaliation

Saturday, 31 March 2012
A US drone attack killed at least five suspected al-Qaeda fighters in southern Yemen on Friday, prompting retaliation from gunmen who blew up a gas pipeline, forcing LNG output to be stopped, officials and energy workers said.
The drone set fire to the armed men’s car in the southern province of Shabwa and killed all its occupants, one official said.
One bystander was also killed and five were wounded, officials and residents told Reuters news agency.
Hours later, gunmen blew up a pipeline which transports gas to a facility whose leading stakeholder is French oil company Total, energy workers said.
Residents said flames could be seen from several kilometres away and a company employee said exports had stopped.
"The explosion took place 28 km north of the Balhaf LNG export plant. Production has been halted," an employee of Yemen LNG, who asked not to be named, told Reuters.
The $4.5 bn Balhaf liquefied natural gas (LNG) export facility opened in 2009 and was the largest industrial project ever carried out in impoverished Yemen.
Oil and gas pipelines have often been attacked by groups affiliated with al-Qaeda, or disgruntled tribesmen.
The pipeline to Balhaf was last blown up in October, hours after an air raid on militants, and took about 10 days to be repaired.
A text message sent to journalists, purporting to come from the al Qaeda-affiliated Ansar al-Sharia (Supporters of Islamic Law), said the group was behind the attack.
"The Mujahideen (holy warriors) blew up the pipeline retaliation for the strike for which Crusader America and its obedient slave in Sanaa are responsible," the message said, referring to the Yemeni government, a close US ally in the fight against al-Qaeda.
Al-Qaeda has reportedly strengthened its hold on southern areas of the Arabian Peninsula, seizing several towns during the past year of protests against President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who left office in February.
The United States has retaliated with a campaign of drone strikes, which has claimed responsibility for operations that include a failed plot to blow up a US-bound passenger plane in 2009.
Earlier this month, US drone attacks killed at least 25 al-Qaeda linked fighters including one of their leaders, and a Yemeni air force raid killed 20, in the biggest airstrikes since the new president, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, took office.

Clashes between Yemeni army, militants kill 30

Associated Press |
Saturday, March 31, 2012
Al-Qaida-linked militants staged a surprise attack on a Yemeni army base in the south Saturday, setting off clashes that left 30 dead on both sides before air strikes forced the militants to retreat, military officials said.
The attack reflects how al-Qaida's branch in Yemen has exploited the political and security turmoil following the country's yearlong uprising, managing to take control of large swaths of land in the south and staging increasingly bold attacks on the military.
The militants have overran cities and towns as the government focused its efforts on protecting the regime in the capital during protests against former President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Saleh's replacement, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, has made fighting al-Qaida one of his top priorities, but many Yemenis accuse the ousted president, whose loyalists are still influential in the military and in government bodies, of undercutting security operations and the new president's authority.
In Saturday's clashes, army officials said the militants attacked the base in al-Mallah town in southern Lahj province. The town is close to Abyan province, an al-Qaida stronghold.
The army fought back and by the time fighter jets were called in and forced the militants to retreat, 17 soldiers and 13 militants were dead. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media. Al-Mallah is adjacent to Abyan province, an al-Qaida stronghold.
The latest clashes come as Washington appears to be increasingly involved in fighting al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, as the Yemeni branch is known and which is believed to have plotted two failed attacks on American soil.
On Friday, unmanned U.S. drones targeted al-Qaida positions inside Shabwa province, another militant hideout, killing four militants, Yemeni officials said.
There was no immediate comment from U.S. officials, but Washington has carried out deadly airstrikes in Yemen in the past. Last year, a U.S. drone strike killed U.S.-born militant cleric Anwar al-Awlaki and a second American, Samir Khan, an al-Qaida propagandist.