Suicide bombers tried to strike two oil facilities in Yemen with explosives-packed cars, but authorities foiled the attacks and four bombers and a security guard were killed, the Interior Ministry said Friday.
The attempts came days before presidential elections in which Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh faces a serious challenge for the first time since he became head of state in 1978. The election campaign was already marred by the abduction of four French tourists, snatched by tribesmen on Sunday.
Saleh faces four opponents in Wednesday's elections. The most serious challenger is Faisal bin Shamlan, who was chosen by five opposition parties as their candidate.
The attacks came days after al Qaeda's No. 2 leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, issued a videotaped threat of attacks on the Persian Gulf, and on facilities he blamed for stealing Muslim oil.
Yemen is the ancestral homeland of al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden and was the scene of the October 2000 bombing of the destroyer USS Cole in Aden harbor that killed 17 American sailors.
After the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, the country allied itself with the United States and cracked down on militants.
But February's escape of 23 al Qaeda militants, and the recapture of just 14 of them, raised questions about whether Yemen was a serious ally in the war on terror. One of the fugitives was convicted in the Cole and the Limburg bombings.
Friday's attacks occurred 35 minutes apart, targeting 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 statement said.
The statement said an investigation is under way to determine the identity of the "terrorist elements" behind the attacks. But 14 of 23 al Qaeda prisoners who escaped from jail in February are still at large.
In the first attack, two suicide bombers drove "at great speed" toward the Dubba Port at 5:15 a.m. in an attempt to blow up storage tanks "filled a huge amount of oil," the Interior Ministry said.
The driver of the first car was dressed in a uniform similar to those worn by staff at the facility, and the second driver was in a military uniform, the statement said.
It 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 statement 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.
"There were driven by other suicide bomber terrorists who tried to break into (the facility)," the statement said.
The two attackers were killed and no one else was injured in the Mareb attack, it said.