Sanaa: An air strike in Yemen targeting al Qaeda missed its mark and killed a mediator, prompting members of his tribe to blow up an oil pipeline in clashes that followed, a provincial official said Tuesday.
Separately, a Yemeni government official said a US couple taken hostage by tribesmen was released Tuesday, a day after they were seized near the capital Sanaa.
A Yemeni website aligned with the opposition said the strike was carried out by a drone, a weapon that Yemen is not believed to have. U.S. forces have used drones in the past in Yemen, but a U.S. diplomat declined to say if Washington was involved.
The strike could heighten anti-U.S. sentiment and broaden al Qaeda`s appeal among powerful Yemeni tribes, threatening efforts to stabilize a country neighboring oil power Saudi Arabia and busy international shipping lanes, analysts said.
The botched bombing of a U.S. airliner on December 25, claimed by al Qaeda`s Yemen-based wing, spurred Washington to step up security help to President Ali Abdullah Saleh`s government, which faces grave challenges apart from militancy.
The mediator, seeking to persuade al Qaeda members to surrender, was killed in the 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 air strike targeting the Wadi Obeida area, where al Qaeda elements are present," the provincial official said.
US couple released
Monday, armed tribesmen kidnapped two U.S. tourists near Sanaa and demanded the release of a relative jailed over a land dispute that was before the courts.
"The Americans have arrived at the interior ministry building in Sanaa," a government official told Reuters.
Authorities had set up road blocks and arrested dozens of members of the kidnappers` families to pressure the abductors.
Another official told Reuters that authorities had promised to look into the kidnappers` demand.
The air strike provoked clashes between the army and members of Shabwani`s tribe, and the tribesmen attacked the pipeline that ferries crude oil from Maarib, east of the capital Sanaa, to the Red Sea coast, the official said.
Clashes with the mediator`s tribe spread from the countryside to Maarib town, where dozens of tribal gunmen opened fire on government buildings, a local official said.
Security officials said angry tribes blocked a main road to Sanaa, stopping trucks carrying cooking gas and petrol.