IMAGE: Yemeni oil facility
AFP - Getty Images file
This Sept. 28, 2003, file photo shows the Masila oil field in Yemen, which was the site of an attempted car bomb attack on Friday.
updated 9/15/2006 6:50:41 AM ET 2006-09-15T10:50:41

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 government said Friday.

The attempts came ahead of this 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-Qaida's No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahri, issued a videotaped threat of attacks on the Persian Gulf and on facilities he blamed for stealing Muslim oil.

Friday's attacks happened 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, an Interior Ministry statement said.

‘Terrorist elements’
The statement said an investigation was under way to determine the identity of the "terrorist elements" behind the attacks.

Fourteen of 23 al-Qaida prisoners who escaped from jail in February remain 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 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 statement said.

It said guards at the port "managed to blow up the rigged cars before they reached their targets."

Guard slain
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.

"They 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 hurt in that attack, it said.

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.

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

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