Yemen ups oil sector security on Qaeda attack fears
By Jamal al-Jaberi (AFP) — Yemen has beefed up security around oil and maritime installations for fear of retaliation by Al-Qaeda after several strikes against the jihadist network, the interior ministry said on Wednesday.
"Yemeni authorities have increased security measures around oil and maritime installations, in addition to securing the routes of oil tankers," the ministry website said.
"Firm orders have been given to security bodies and the coast guard to up their alert levels in order to counter any possible terror attack by Al-Qaeda elements," it added.
It said that attacks could take place "in retaliation for the qualitative and severe strikes that targeted terror hideouts in several provinces."
Security forces in the southern provinces of Abyan, Aden, Hadramut and Shabwa, as well as Hudayda and Taez further north, were ordered to "double coastal surveillance to spot suspicious boats that could be used by terrorist elements in revenge attacks," it said.
Al-Qaeda has in the past targeted oil facilities in Yemen, which produces less than 300,000 barrels of oil a day, more than half of which is exported.
The impoverished country also has a gas terminal in Balhaf, in the south.
Yemen said it killed three members of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula -- the local branch of the global network, in Sunday air strikes on suspected hideouts in Moudia, in Abyan.
It said the AQAP chief in Abyan, Jamil Nasser Abdullah al-Ambari, 25, who figured on a list of 152 wanted militants, was killed in the attacks.
The air force targeted a suspected Al-Qaeda training camp in the same area on Monday, the defence ministry said.
A brief statement said the raids were carried out in Moudia, but did not specify whether anyone was killed or wounded in the latest strike.
On Wednesday, the ministry elaborated that the Sunday air strike "targeted a terrorist cell in the village of Jizat al Qinan, in Moudia, which was plotting terrorist attacks."
It said that the "severe strikes" against AQAP were forcing militants to flee to "remote areas" claiming that the authorities have succeeded in "isolating the elements of Al-Qaeda in Abyan, Shabwa and Maarib, and other provinces."
"These elements are not able to leave their hideouts or appear in public," it claimed, warning that security forces "will hit hard wherever terrorist elements were to be found."
The air raids on Sunday and Monday were the first since January 20, when Yemeni warplanes pounded the house of Ayed al-Shabwani, a local Al-Qaeda chief in the province of Maarib, east of Sanaa.
Shabwani himself was believed to have been killed a week earlier along with five other suspects in an air raid in the north of the country.
AQAP had denied then that any of the six militants were killed in the attack on three 4x4 vehicles in a remote desert area.
Yemen has intensified operations against the local Al-Qaeda branch since December, when air strikes killed 34 suspected members of AQAP on December 17 in an attack on an alleged training camp in Abyan.
The same number of militants were allegedly killed in another strike on December 24 which targeted a meeting of AQAP militants in Shabwa.
AQAP claimed responsibility for a failed attempt to blow up a US airliner on Christmas Day.
Top US general David Petraeus said last month that Al-Qaeda is becoming less of a threat across much of the Middle East and south Asia with the clear exception of Yemen.
"Saudi Arabia and the other peninsula countries have continued to make gains with the obvious exception of Yemen," Petraeus, the head of US Central Command, told NBC television's "Meet the Press" program.
The United States has reportedly supplied Yemen with intelligence and other support in its operations against the jihadists.
But US President Barack Obama has said he has "no intention" of sending in troops