Twelve killed in Yemeni protests

Security forces shot dead at least 12 people protesting against the rule of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh in the capital Sanaa on Saturday and al-Qaeda insurgents blew up a pipeline, halting the nation’s gas exports.

Yemeni officials said the attack on France’s Total gas pipeline was in retaliation for the killing of the head of the media department of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in an air raid on militant outposts in Yemen.

In Sana’a, security forces shot dead at least 12 demonstrators in a fresh outbreak of violence as Yemenis waited for the United Nations Security Council to agree to a resolution expected to urge Saleh to hand over power under a Gulf peace plan.

The death of Ibrahim al-Banna, an Egyptian described by Yemeni officials as high on their wanted list, and 23 other people late on Friday is a fresh blow to the Islamist group regarded by Washington as the most serious threat to the United States, following the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki last month.

But the destruction of the Total pipeline, which transports gas from the central Maarib province to Belhaf port on the Arabian Sea, deals a severe blow to the Yemeni economy, already reeling from months of protests.

The Yemeni Defence Ministry said its air force targeted militant hideouts near the town of Azzan in the southern Shabwa province, an attack which residents said also killed the oldest son and a cousin of US-born cleric Al-Awlaki, long sought by Washington for links to al-Qaeda.

‘Dangerous’ militant
Local residents and officials said they believed the aircraft that launched at least three strikes in the area were foreign, flying at high altitude and smaller than the Soviet-made Yemeni air force planes.

“There were planes flying high. I could hear the sounds of their engines but I could not make them out,” one witness who declined to be identified, told Reuters. “All of a sudden, the area was shaken by successive explosions,” he added.

A Yemeni official described al-Banna as a “dangerous” militant and one of the most wanted people internationally.

Witnesses said militants were seen removing several mutilated bodies as well as an unknown number of injured people from the scene after the raid early on Saturday.

Last month, a US drone killed Al-Awlaki, identified by US intelligence as “chief of external operations” for al-Qaeda’s Yemen branch and a web-savvy propagandist for the Islamist cause, US officials said.

Relatives of Al-Awlaki said the cleric’s son and cousin were due to be buried at the site of the attack.

Islamist militants linked to al-Qaeda captured large swathes of southern Abyan province, including the provincial capital Zinjibar, earlier this year.

The Yemeni army last month drove the militants out of Zinjibar, which lies east of a strategic shipping strait through which some three million barrels of oil pass daily.

Gas pipeline
Residents and officials said the 322km pipeline, which links gas fields in Maarib, east of Sanaa, to a $4.5-billion Total-led liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant, was attacked soon after the raids.

Sources at Total told Reuters the pipeline was blown up in two places, stopping the supplies that feed the Belhaf LNG plant. Witnesses said flames were visible from several kilometres away.

The company evacuated nearly half its foreign staff to neighbouring Djibouti and sent some local and French engineers to start repairing the pipeline.

Three South Korean companies also hold stakes in the plant, Yemen’s largest industrial project, which opened in 2009.

Yemen’s only liquefied natural gas producer, Yemen LNG, warned customers in March of potential supply curtailments as violence spread.

Yemen has the capacity to supply up to 6.7-million tonnes of LNG per year. Last year Yemen LNG, the 16th largest seller of the gas, shipped more than half its supplies to Asia, the rest going to the Americas and Europe.

The project delivers LNG under long term contracts to GDF Suez (GSZ.PA), Total and Korea Gas Corp (036460.KS).

Sana’a heats up
In Sana’a, heavy violence broke a lull as Yemenis awaited deliberations in the UN Security Council aimed at pressuring Saleh to comply with a Gulf Arab initiative to hand over power to his deputy as part of a plan to end months of protests.

Witnesses and medics said Yemeni security forces opened fire on tens of thousands of anti-government demonstrators trying to march towards state buildings, such as the presidential palace.

They said dozens of people were also wounded and taken to a field hospital in Sixty Street where thousands have camped out for months demanding that Saleh steps down. A Yemeni government soldier also died in the clashes, government sources said.

Witnesses said troops initially used tear gas and water cannon against the demonstrators, who responded by hurling stones at security forces. “Dozens of people were also wounded in the clashes,” one witness said.

The director of the field hospital, Tareq Noman, told Al Jazeera television that his facility had received the bodies of 10 people and that hundreds were wounded. The deputy information minister, Abdu al-Janadi, said the death toll was lower.

In a separate incident, witnesses said government forces fought heavy battles with gunmen loyal to powerful tribal leader Sadeq al-Ahmar, who supports opposition demands for an end to Saleh’s 33-year grip on power.

They said the fighting was concentrated in the Hasaba neighbourhood of Sana’a, where al-Ahmar lives, and near the airport, which was closed by the fighting.

Opposition sources said four tribal fighters were killed in the clashes. — Reuters

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories

The pandemic has shifted patterns of conflict in Africa

Although the overall rate of conflict has remained steady in Africa during the past 10 weeks of the pandemic, the nature of this is changing in subtle but significant ways

Armed militants wage war on Burkina Faso’s schools

A survivor tells of how Islamists carrying AK-47s arrived on motorbikes, forced fleeing children to lie on the ground and beat teachers before setting a building on fire

Covid-19 in Africa: The good news and the bad

What might Africa look like in the wake of the pandemic? There’s enough change happening to keep both optimists happy and pessimists glum

Conflict is escalating in central Mali, says Human Rights Watch

Last year was the deadliest for civilians since the current political crisis began in 2012. And the fighting is also increasing in neighbouring countries

Secularism is not the answer to fundamentalist violence

A solution to religious fundamentalist violence is neither a secularist view nor religious in nature; it entails a blend of both.

Amnesty report says SA arms diverted to Yemeni militia

Between 2015 and the end of 2017, South Africa transferred $62-million worth of major conventional weapons to the UAE

New education policy on gender violence released

Universities and other higher education institutions have to develop ways of preventing or dealing with rape and other damaging behaviour

Cambridge Food Jozini: Pandemic or not, the price-gouging continues

The Competition Commission has fined Cambridge Food Jozini for hiking the price of its maize meal during April

Sekhukhune’s five-year battle for water back in court

The residents of five villages are calling for the district municipal manager to be arrested

Vaccine trial results due in December

If successful, it will then have to be manufactured and distributed

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday