SANAA (Reuters) - Kinsmen of a Yemeni mediator killed in an errant airstrike targeting al Qaeda blew up an oil pipeline Thursday in the second such attack this week, a government official said.
The airstrike has provoked clashes between tribesmen and the army, stoking instability in Yemen, which is a focus of Western security concerns over a resurgent regional al Qaeda wing based in the impoverished Arabian Peninsula country.
“Tribesmen blew up the same pipeline again. Teams have been sent for repairs,” a government official said, declining to be named. Tribesmen had also damaged four electricity pylons since Wednesday, triggering severe power cuts in the capital, he said. “They are not allowing repair teams to reach the pylons.”
An oil ministry official told Reuters oil exports had not been affected by the blast, the second since Tuesday on the pipeline which carries crude oil to a Red Sea terminal.
The tribesmen earlier threatened to call off a truce with the government and resume hostilities unless an investigation into the strike that killed Jaber al-Shabwani and four others produces results by Friday.
A Yemeni website aligned with the opposition said the strike was carried out by a drone, a weapon Yemen is not believed to have. U.S, forces have used drones in Yemen in fighting al Qaeda in the past, but a U.S. diplomat declined to say if Washington was involved.
Members of Shabwani’s tribe agreed to the truce on condition that it investigate how he was killed and punish those responsible.
“We rejected tribal arbitration in favor of the formation of an inquiry committee to investigate the incident and expose those involved,” Shabwani’s father Ali told Reuters.
In a statement, the tribe set a Friday deadline for the completion of the investigation. It warned that “if (the state) does not present those responsible, it can expect a harsh response.”
Shabwani, deputy governor of Maarib province where the airstrike occurred, had been en route to meet al Qaeda members to seek their surrender, local officials said.
U.S. officials said Tuesday that the U.S. military and spy agencies have stepped up intelligence gathering using surveillance aircraft, satellites, and signal intercepts to track al Qaeda targets in and around their base in Yemen.
Yemen, a neighbor of top oil exporter Saudi Arabia, jumped to the forefront of Western security concerns after the Yemen-based regional arm of al Qaeda claimed responsibility for the botched bombing of a U.S. plane on December 25.
A statement from a top Yemeni security body expressed sorrow over al-Shabwani’s death, calling him a martyr, but did not say who might have carried out the strike or what type of aircraft was used.
U.S. officials asked about the strike said that Washington plays a supporting role by helping Yemeni forces track and pinpoint targets. One official said there was an increasingly “fine line” between support and taking the lead.
The Pentagon announced a $155.3 million security package earlier this year, with $34.5 million earmarked to expand the capabilities of Yemen’s Special Operations Forces to conduct counterterrorism operations.
Analysts say the strike could heighten anti-U.S. sentiment and broaden al Qaeda’s appeal among powerful Yemeni tribes that threaten efforts to stabilize the country, also situated next to busy international shipping lanes.
Separately, a soldier was killed and three were injured in clashes with armed men in southern Lahej province, the site of increasing separatist unrest, a local official told Reuters.
Additional reporting by Mohammed Mukhashaf in Aden; Writing by Erika Solomon and Firouz Sedarat, editing by Elizabeth Fullerton