SANAA (Reuters) - A Yemeni airstrike targeting al Qaeda missed its mark on Tuesday and killed a mediator by mistake, prompting members of his tribe to blow up a crude oil pipeline in clashes that followed, a provincial official said.
The mediator, who had been trying to persuade members of the global militant group to surrender, was killed instantly in a pre-dawn strike on his car in the mountainous Maarib province that also killed three other people.
“Jaber al-Shabwani, the deputy governor of Maarib, was killed with a number of his relatives and travel companions in an airstrike targeting the Wadi Obeida area, where al Qaeda elements are present,” said the official, a member of a local council in Maarib, who declined to be named.
“The deputy governor was on a mediation mission to persuade al Qaeda elements to hand themselves over to the authorities, but it seems that the airstrike missed its target and struck his car, killing him instantly in addition to three companions,” he added. Two others were wounded.
The strike provoked clashes between the army and members of Shabwani’s tribe, and the tribesmen attacked the pipeline that ferries crude from Maarib, east of the capital Sanaa, to the Red Sea coast, the official said.
“Tribesmen blew up a pipeline that carries crude from Safir to the Ras Isa port on the Red Sea,” he said, adding that the pipeline attack was “in response to the killing of the deputy governor of Maarib province.”
Yemen, which borders the world’s top oil exporter Saudi Arabia, moved to the forefront of Western security concerns after al Qaeda’s Yemen-based regional arm claimed responsibility for a failed attempt to bomb a U.S.-bound plane in December.
The United States and Saudi Arabia want Yemen, which is trying to end a conflict with Shi‘ite rebels in the north while separatist sentiment bubbles over in the south, to focus its efforts on fighting al Qaeda, which they see as a greater global threat.
Maarib province, where the strike took place, has seen air strikes in the past against al Qaeda’s regional wing.
Yemen’s allies fear the global militant group will take advantage of instability in Yemen to spread its operations to Saudi Arabia and beyond.
Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari; Writing by Cynthia Johnston; editing by David Stamp