Yemen said on Wednesday that it had thwarted a bold plot by al-Qaida’s Yemeni branch to disrupt this country’s economic lifeline by attacking strategic southern ports and oil and gas facilities.
It was not immediately clear whether the foiled plot was the attack alluded to in communications intercepted by intelligence agencies last week, The Washington Post
U.S. intelligence officials are skeptical that the danger has passed and said they remain on high alert.
The intercepted messages – indicating that al-Qaida's leader had urged the group's Yemen affiliate to attack Western targets – prompted U.S. officials to take the highly unusual step of shutting down 25 embassies across the Middle East and North Africa.
In addition, the White House authorized drone strikes to try to disrupt the plot, including a strike on Wednesday in southern Yemen that killed seven alleged militants.
One U.S. official told the Post that the plot as described by Yemen’s government might have been one part of a broader plan to attack Western targets.
The plot described on Wednesday by Rajeh Badi, a spokesman for Prime Minister Mohammed Basindwa, involved seizing control of Mukalla, a vital sea port and capital of Hadramaut province, and the Canadian-run Mina al-Dhaba oil terminal west of Mukalla on the Arabian Sea.
The militants allegedly planned to kill or kidnap foreigners working at the sites, the Post reports.
Badi said the al-Qaida branch also intended to attack the town of Bawzeer northeast of Mukalla.
Meanwhile, separate groups of militants were to target the Belhaf gas pipeline in Yemen’s southern Shabwa province, as well other gas facilities there, Badi said, the Post reports.
The militants planned to disguise themselves in Coast Guard uniforms and stage a fake strike demanding unpaid bonuses for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Those attacks were to occur at the same time as those in or near Mukalla, the Post reports.
Ramadan ends this week, followed by the traditional Eid festivities.
“While they would have some chaos in Mukalla, other al-Qaeda militants would also be attacking the Belhaf pipeline,” Badi told the Post.
Yemeni government officials said the ultimate goal of the militants was to take over the city of Mukalla, control it and, by extension, the province.
If successful, the move would have been similar to what al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, as the terror network’s Yemen branch is called, did in 2011 when it seized control of large parts of Abyan province.
“We found out through our military sources about these plots, and so we took the necessary actions to make them fail,” Badi told the Post. “This is the first time they have tried to take over the city of Mukalla.”
Badi would not elaborate on what measures were taken to thwart the plot, or by whom, the Post reports.
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