- The Washington Times - Friday, September 15, 2006

SAN’A, Yemen — Suicide bombers tried to strike two oil facilities with explosives-packed cars yesterday, but authorities foiled the attacks and four bombers and a security guard were killed, the government said.

The attempts came ahead of next week’s presidential elections, in which President Ali Abdullah Saleh faces a serious challenge for the first time since he became head of state in 1978.

They also came days after al Qaeda’s No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahri, issued a videotaped threat of attacks on the neighboring Persian Gulf and on facilities he blamed for stealing Muslim oil.

Yesterday’s attacks happened 35 minutes apart. They targeted a Yemeni oil refinery in the northeast province of Mareb and a Canadian-Yemeni oil storage facility at the Dubba Port in Haramut province — scene of a 2002 attack on the French tanker Limburg, the Interior Ministry said.

Yemen is the ancestral homeland of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and was the scene of the 2000 bombing of the destroyer USS Cole that killed 17 American sailors.

Fourteen of 23 al Qaeda prisoners who escaped from a Yemeni jail in February remain at large. One of the fugitives had been convicted in the Cole and the Limburg bombings. The escape raised questions about Yemen’s reliability in the fight against terrorism.

In the first attack yesterday, two suicide bombers drove “at great speed” toward the Dubba Port at 5:15 a.m. in an attempt to blow up storage tanks containing a “huge amount” of oil, the ministry said.

The driver of the first car was wearing a uniform similar to those worn by staff at the facility, and the second driver was dressed in a military uniform, the ministry said.

The ministry said guards at the port “managed to blow up the rigged cars before they reached their targets.”

A security guard was killed, while “remains of the two terrorist attackers were strewn all over the place,” the ministry said. Shrapnel from the exploding cars sparked a small fire in one of the storage tanks, but it was quickly put out, it added.

At 5:50 a.m., security guards at a refinery in Mareb blew up two white cars loaded with explosives. The vehicles were similar to those driven by staff at the facility.

The two attackers were killed and no one else was hurt in that attack, the ministry said.

Mr. Saleh faces four opponents in Wednesday’s elections — already marred by the abduction Sunday of four French tourists by tribesmen. The most serious challenger is Faisal bin Shamlan.

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