ADEN: Yemen said on Wednesday that it had foiled an al-Qaeda plot to storm a Western-run oil terminal and seize a port city, as a terror alert kept United States (US) Middle East missions closed.
The jihadist network’s feared Yemeni affiliate planned to assault the Canadian-run Mina al-Dhaba oil terminal on the Arabian Sea coast and take staff hostage, including Western expatriates, government spokesman Rajeh Badi told Agence France-Presse.
A nearby export facility for oil derivatives was also targeted, Badi said.
Al-Qaeda also plotted to seize the nearby Hadramawt provincial capital Al-Mukalla, a port city of 100,000 people, and the Ghayl Bawazeer area to its north, where they briefly declared an Islamic emirate earlier this year.
“If they were to fail in seizing control of the facilities, the plan was to take foreign experts away as hostages,” Badi said.
The attack was planned for Monday, which coincided with the 27th day of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan and was the second day of a mass closure of US missions across the Middle East and North Africa.
The plot was foiled around two days before its planned launch, Badi said.
Washington and London pulled diplomatic personnel out of Sanaa on Tuesday citing intelligence reports of an imminent attack by the Yemen-based al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
An intercepted conference call between al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri and top operatives was reportedly the trigger for the US embassy closures.
More than 20 al-Qaeda operatives from across the globe were on the call, including representatives of Nigeria’s Boko Haram, the Pakistani Taliban and al-Qaeda in Iraq as well as AQAP, US media reported.
In the call, Zawahiri is said to have named AQAP chief Nasser al-Wuhayshi as the operational controller of the group’s affiliates throughout the Muslim world.
A lack of clarity about the wider threat, however, remains. On Wednesday, a UN report said Zawahiri has struggled to unite al-Qaeda’s various factions though the group continues to pose a threat.
“A fragmented and weakened al-Qaeda has not been extinguished,” said the report, adding: “The reality of al-Qaeda’s diminished capabilities and limited appeal does not mean that the threat of al-Qaeda attacks has passed.”
This was later stressed by US President Barack Obama, who told some 3,000 marines that while al-Qaeda’s top ranks had been “hammered,” “the end of the war in Afghanistan doesn’t mean the end of threats to our nation.”
While the closures span cities across the Arab world, the focus of concern has been Yemen, where Washington has been fighting a drone war against AQAP militants for several years.
US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Wednesday that Washington’s embassy in Sanaa remained closed, “and we continue to evaluate the threats on a daily basis.”