SANAA/ADEN Dec 8 A senior Yemeni army official
was killed on Saturday in an ambush by suspected al Qaeda
members, while the army battled tribesmen who blew up the
country's main oil export pipeline.
The chief-of-staff for Yemen's central military region in
turbulent Maarib province, home to a large portion of the
impoverished country's oil, died when gunmen fired on his
vehicle, a security official said.
The attackers were probably militants linked to al Qaeda,
said the official, who did not want to be identified.
Yemeni troops also launched an offensive in Maarib after an
attack on the principal oil pipeline there on Friday. Two
officers were killed and four soldiers injured in clashes with
tribesmen, according to another security official.
Repairs had begun on the Maarib oil pipeline and power lines
just last week after the government reached a deal with
tribesmen to stop attacking infrastructure.
Yemen's oil and gas pipelines have been repeatedly
sabotaged by Islamist militants or tribesmen since
anti-government protests created a power vacuum in 2011, causing
fuel shortages and slashing export earnings.
The 430-km (270-mile) pipeline used to carry 110,000 barrels
per day from Maarib oil fields in the centre of the country to
the Ras Isa export terminal on the Red Sea.
Its long closure last year forced the country's largest
refinery at Aden to shut, leaving Yemen dependent on fuel
donations from Saudi Arabia and imports.
Yemen has struggled to restore normality since President
Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi was elected in February following a year
of protests that forced his predecessor Ali Abdullah Saleh to
step down after 33 years in power.
The return of stability is a priority for the United States
and its Gulf allies because of Yemen's strategic position next
to top oil exporter Saudi Arabia and major shipping lanes, and
because it is home to a major wing of al Qaeda.
Security forces also foiled a car bomb targetting the
director for security operations in the eastern province of
Hadramout on Saturday, a third local official told Reuters on
condition of anonymity.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has made its base in
Yemen, and took advantage of the chaos last year in the run-up
to and aftermath of Saleh stepping down, even taking over entire
towns and areas in the south.
The group has mounted operations in neighbouring Saudi Arabia
as well as attempting attacks against the United States, which
has stepped up attacks by unmanned aircraft this year.
(Reporting By Mohammed Ghobari in Sanaa and Mohammed Mukhashaf
in Aden, writing by Raissa Kasolowsky; editing by Jason Webb)