Yemen announces it has foiled an al-Qaeda plot to blow up oil pipelines and seize some of the country’s main ports.
Security remains tight – and hundreds of armored vehicles have been deployed to protect key targets.
Both the US and UK have withdrawn diplomatic staff from Yemen, prompted by intelligence reports of renewed terrorist activity.
The US is reported to be preparing special operations forces for possible strikes against al-Qaeda in Yemen.
It appears that Yemen was at the centre of a complex and audacious plot which – had it succeeded – would have given al-Qaeda control over a crucial aspect of the country’s infrastructure.
Yemeni government spokesman Rajeh Badi said the plot involved blowing up oil pipelines and taking control of certain cities – including two ports in the south, one of which accounts for the bulk of Yemen’s oil exports and is where a number of foreign workers are employed.
“There were attempts to control key cities in Yemen like Mukala and Bawzeer,” said Rajeh Badi.
“This would be co-ordinated with attacks by al-Qaeda members on the gas facilities in Shebwa city and the blowing up of the gas pipe in Belhaf city.”
Yemen has foiled an al-Qaeda plot to blow up oil pipelines and seize some of the country’s main ports
Al-Qaeda members dressed as soldiers were to be outside the ports, he said. On a given signal they were to invade the facility and take it over.
Yemeni officials quoted by AP news agency said they believed the motive for the planned attacks was retaliation for the killing of senior al-Qaeda figure Said al-Shihri, who was critically wounded in a November drone strike and later died of his injuries.
Tanks and troops have surrounded foreign missions, government offices and the airport, and senior officials are being advised to limit their movements.
Both the US, which closed 20 embassies worldwide on Sunday, and the UK have withdrawn diplomatic staff from Yemen and urged their citizens to leave.
The US embassy and consulate closures reportedly followed intercepted conversations between two senior al-Qaeda figures, including top leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, suggesting terrorist attacks.
According to the New York Times, the US intercepted communications between Ayman al-Zawahiri and the group’s head in Yemen, Nasser al-Wuhayshi.
The paper said the conversation represented one of the most serious plots since the 9/11 attacks.
The Yemeni government spokesman said the international community “feared the reaction of al-Qaeda” and added: “We understand such fears.”
But the foreign ministry has criticized the embassy withdrawals, saying “the evacuation of embassy staff serves the interests of the extremists.”
Although the US has previously sent special forces to train counter-terrorist units, there are now suggestions that the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), may be preparing units for strike operations, the sources said.
JSOC co-operates closely with the CIA, which has mounted four drone strikes in Yemen over the past 10 days.
Yemen is the base of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and both the White House and the US state department have said the current threat comes from AQAP but have refused to divulge further details.
The US has evacuated its embassy in the Central African Republic (CAR) as rebels threaten to advance towards the capital, Bangui.
The state department said it had not broken off diplomatic ties with the government but warned US citizens not to travel to CAR during the unrest.
Earlier, CAR President Francois Bozize appealed to the US and France to help block the rebel advance.
The UN has said it is evacuating its non-essential staff from the country.
US state department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said the embassy had suspended operations and that the ambassador and other staff had left the country on Thursday.
“This decision is solely due to concerns about the security of our personnel and has no relation to our continuing and long-standing diplomatic relations with the CAR,” he said in a statement.
Residents are stockpiling food amid fears that the rebels – known as the Seleka coalition – could launch an assault in the next few days.
On Sunday, the rebels captured the northern city of Bambari, the third largest in the country, having earlier seized the rich diamond mining area around Bria.
On Wednesday, protesters in Bangui attacked the embassy of former colonial power France, accusing Paris of abandoning them.
The US has evacuated its embassy in the Central African Republic as rebels threaten to advance towards capital Bangui
France has about 200 soldiers based in CAR and stepped up security at its embassy after the attack.
President Francois Bozize apologized for the incident and appealed for “our French cousins” and the US “to help us to push back the rebels”.
However, French President Francois Hollande said Paris would not intervene in its former colony.
“If we have a presence, it’s not to protect a regime, it’s to protect our nationals and our interests and in no way to intervene in the internal business of a country, in this case the Central African Republic,” he said.
“Those days are over.”
Seleka, which is made up of breakaway factions from three former armed groups, accuses Francois Bozize of failing to honour a 2007 peace deal, under which fighters who laid down their arms were meant to be paid.
The rebels have pledged to depose Francois Bozize unless he negotiates with them.
They began their campaign a month ago and have taken several towns in their push towards the capital.
Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng says he has been unable to meet US officials to discuss his desire to leave the country.
The blind dissident, in hospital in Beijing, says he believes Chinese officials were preventing US envoys from visiting him on Thursday.
After he escaped house arrest last week, Chen Guangcheng spent six days in the US embassy before emerging on Wednesday.
The issue continues to overshadow key talks between the US and China.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in Beijing to attend talks focusing on North Korea and Syria.
As the talks opened, Hillary Clinton did not mention Chen Guangcheng by name but addressed the topic of human rights.
Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng says he has been unable to meet US officials to discuss his desire to leave the country
Earlier, the US ambassador to China, Gary Locke, rejected the suggestion that Chen Guangcheng had been pressured into leaving the US embassy.
“I can tell you unequivocally that he was never pressured to leave. He was excited and eager about leaving,” he said.
However, Chen Guangcheng says since he left he has been made aware of threats made to his wife and family while he was in the embassy.
“She told me our house has been installed with seven CCTV cameras inside the courtyard. There are people in and outside of our house and on the roof…They just eat and stay in our house, and they plan to build up electric wires around my house,” he said.
Although he initially said he wanted to stay in China, Chen Guangcheng changed his mind because he believes China has reneged on an agreement to guarantee his safety.
There is no official confirmation about the nature of any such agreement, but media reports from the US suggest that Chen Guangcheng had been promised safety in a university town elsewhere in China.
Chen Guangcheng also said that US officials had been to the hospital where he is currently receiving treatment, but he had not seen them. He believes Chinese foreign ministry officials are not letting them in.
“Yesterday afternoon I thought they [US officials ] left. I looked for them, but couldn’t find them…Today I got to know that they were prevented from coming in, not that they are not coming in,” he said.
A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said he had “no information” on Chen Guangcheng’s request to leave China.
Both Hillary Clinton and US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner are attending the annual two-day talks, which had been expected to focus on North Korea and Syria.
Hillary Clinton has previously expressed her support for Chen Guangcheng, who has been held under house arrest for almost two years.
As the talks opened, she addressed the topic of human rights.
“The United States believes that no state can legitimately deny the universal rights that belong to every human being – or punish those who exercise them,” the top US diplomat said.
President Hu Jintao, also speaking at the start of the talks, said it was not possible for China and the US to see “eye to eye on every issue”.
Chinese officials on Wednesday accused the US of interference in their domestic affairs and demanded an apology for housing Chen Guangcheng at the embassy.
Chen Guangcheng had been at the US embassy for almost a week after escaping from house arrest in his home village in the eastern province of Shandong.
He had planned his escape from house arrest for months. On 27 April, he scaled the wall the authorities had built around his house and was then driven hundreds of miles to Beijing.
The activist spent seven years in prison or under house arrest after he exposed human rights abuses, including the way thousands of women were forced to have abortions under China’s “one-child-policy”.
Several people involved in Chen Guangcheng’s escape have been detained or have disappeared in recent days.