Suspected al-Qaeda members killed five Yemeni soldiers early on Sunday in an attack on forces guarding Yemen's only liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminal, a local official said. Last week, the Yemeni government said it had foiled such an attack after intercepting al-Qaeda phone calls discussing potential targets within the country, including ports, natural-gas facilities and foreign embassies.
The gunmen infiltrated a checkpoint guarding the Balhaf LNG terminal in the southern Shabwa province, killed a guard and then entered a cargo container where the soldiers were sleeping and killed them as well, said a local Yemeni official.
The attackers remain at large and are believed to have fled the scene by vehicle.
The Balhaf facility, the largest industrial project the country has seen, opened in 2009 and is heavily guarded by Yemeni troops. It supplies gas cooled to liquid for export.
A Yemeni government spokesman said last week that the $4.5 billion facility, jointly managed by Yemen LNG and France's Total, was one of two energy targets that suspected al-Qaeda members had been plotting to attack.
One of the plots the government said it had foiled included transporting al-Qaeda members disguised in military uniforms to ports that export gas where they would ask for Ramadan donations as a ruse to gain access so that they could launch attacks.
Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), Yemen's branch of al-Qaeda, are believed to be seeking retaliation for a U.S.-backed military offensive against the group, as well for drone strikes that sometimes kill civilians instead of alleged members.
Washington has stepped up drone strikes on suspected al-Qaeda targets in Yemen – with the latest strike on Saturday that left two suspected fighters dead, according to Yemeni military officials.
Officials said Saturday's strike was the ninth attributed to U.S. drones in the last two weeks. At least 38 people who the United States alleges were members of al-Qaeda were killed in those attacks.
Al Jazeera and wire services