Suspected al-Qaida militants blew up an oil pipeline in southern Yemen on Tuesday, causing an oil leak and sending black smoke billowing into the sky, Yemeni security and oil company officials said. No casualties were reported.
Statements witnesses gave to investigators indicate Yemen's al-Qaida offshoot might have been behind the attack, a security official said.
Other anti-government militants are also active in southern Yemen. And over the past year, tribesmen have attacked pipelines, in several cases to protest civilian deaths in government airstrikes targeting the al-Qaida group. Gangs have also been suspected of sabotaging pipelines to extort money from government officials.
Tuesday's attack took place in the town of Shubika in Shabwa province, where Yemen's al-Qaida branch has found refuge in remote and rugged mountains. The group is suspected in the shipment of parcel bombs addressed to synagogues in the U.S., putting Yemen under more pressure to intensify its battle against the militants. The two bombs were discovered last week at airports in England and Dubai before they exploded.
The pipeline blast set off a large fire, the security official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.
The explosion caused a leak in the 126-mile (204-kilometer) pipeline, which is operated by a state-owned South Korean company, Korea National Oil Corp., according to South Korea's Yonhap news agency.
The pipeline is part of an oil field that produces 10,000 barrels a day, the report said, quoting company officials. The extent of damage has not yet been confirmed, the report said.
A South Korean Embassy official reached by phone in Yemen confirmed that an explosion struck a KNOC pipeline. The official, Lee Han-wook, declined to provide further details.
Cha Young-cheol, chief of the situation room at South Korea's Foreign Ministry in Seoul, said remains of the explosives were found near the area.
He said it is too early to conclude al-Qaida is responsible for the attack and said local police are investigating. He also said there were no casualties.
Yemen's oil output has been steadily declining from a peak of about 440,000 barrels per day in 2001. The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates the country's output could drop to 260,000 barrels per day this year.
Like many other oil producing countries in the region, the impoverished nation relies on oil for about a quarter of its gross domestic product and over 70 percent of its government revenues.
The country, however, has only about 3 billion barrels of proven reserves, while its northern neighbor, Saudi Arabia, sits atop the world's largest proven reserves of conventional crude.
Kwang-tae Kim contributed to this report from Seoul, South Korea.