SANAA, Yemen – Suspected al-Qaida gunmen killed five soldiers early Sunday in a southern province of Yemen, an official said, as U.S. embassies across the Muslim and Arab world reopened after terror threat emanating from the region.
The U.S. Embassy in Yemen's capital, Sanaa, remained closed Sunday after American officials flew its diplomatic staff out of the country over fears of attack. Eighteen other diplomatic posts Middle East and Africa were to reopen, the State Department said, though the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr saw many businesses closed.
An intercepted message between al-Qaida officials about plans for a major terror attack triggered the closures.
On Sunday, attackers in Yemen surprised the soldiers at their post guarding oil and gas projects in the Radhum area of Shabwa province, the official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity according to regulations.
Pipelines carrying oil and gas to coastal terminals in Yemen's mostly lawless south have been repeatedly attacked by al-Qaida militants and tribes with whom they have ties. Yemeni officials also suspect tribesmen allied with former President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
The Radhum checkpoint is close to the Balhaf liquefied gas export terminal which was a target for a failed car bomb attack in June 2. The car exploded before it reached its target, killing only the attacker.
A Yemeni government spokesman said last week that the country had foiled a plot to target other oil ports on the coast.
There has been a spike in the last two weeks in suspected U.S. drone strikes in the country targeting al-Qaida. Yemeni officials say nine attacks have killed 38 alleged militants.
While the U.S. acknowledges its drone program in Yemen, it does not usually talk about individual strikes. The program is run by the Pentagon's Joint Special Operations Command and the CIA, with the military flying its drones out of Djibouti, and the CIA out of a base in Saudi Arabia.
An accelerated use of drone strikes in Yemen under President Barack Obama and a U.S.-backed offensive last year drove militants from territory they had seized a year earlier, during Yemen's political turmoil amid the Arab Spring.
The U.S. considers the local al-Qaida branch, also known as al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, to be the world's most active.