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 …in 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.