Armed Al-Qaeda members reportedly opened fire in the Ahour area in an attack thought to be a response to US drone attacks on Islamists in southern Yemen.
An unnamed Yemeni official told Reuters that the attack targeted guards at the Belhaf port in Shabwa Province, which is the only port used to export natural gas. He added that the armed men killed the soldiers while they were sleeping in the early hours of Sunday morning.
A Yemeni government spokesman said last week that the gas installation–operated by the Yemeni Natural Gas Company and France’s Total–was one among multiple targets in the energy sector that the Al-Qaeda insurgents had planned to attack last week.
The Belhaf installation is the largest industrial installation in Yemen. It opened in 2009 and is heavily guarded by the Yemeni army. A source at the private security firm which works for oil and gas companies in Yemen said the attack may have come as a response to the drone strikes that killed dozens of armed Islamists in the south in recent weeks.
The source, who preferred to remain anonymous, added that “the checkpoint that was attacked is one many leading to the gas installations, and the insurgents knew that is was impossible to penetrate all the checkpoints and that is why they did not try to go further, because they only wanted revenge.”
He added that it is normal to have up to 1,800 Yemeni soldiers protecting oil and gas facilities in Shabwa.
The Yemeni government said last week that it had foiled an attack by Al-Qaeda on Dabbah and Belhaf ports in the Hadhramaut region. The attacks follow an increase in drone strikes in the last two weeks.
Sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that 24 members of Al-Qaeda have been killed in the last five days in drone attacks in Ma’reb, Shabwa, Hadhramaut and Lahj provinces that were targeting extremists in those areas.
Meanwhile, a number of countries that closed their embassies in the Yemeni capital of Sana’a last week have reopened them, although the US embassy remains closed.