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Terrorists planned to take over key cities crucial to the country’s oil supply infrastructure, while bombarding Western diplomatic missions with explosions and suicide bombings.

The evacuation of US and UK government staff from Yemen came as a result of a vast al-Qa’ida plot to capture the country’s vital oil supply infrastructure while simultaneously bombarding Western embassies and state authorities with a string of suicide blasts, officials said.

Yemen has been abruptly thrust back into the forefront of the international fight against terrorism, and Britain and America moved to get all non-military employees out of the firing line yesterday.

As many as 100 US consulate staff were moved to an airbase in Germany, and the Foreign Office said its diplomats had been “temporarily withdrawn to the UK”.

Yemeni security officials have launched a wide-scale investigation into the terrorist threat, first discovered after the interception of a secret message between al-Qa’ida chief Ayman al-Zawahri and Nasser al-Wahishi, the leader of the Yemen-based al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula.

And the BBC reported that it appeared to be part of a “complex and audacious” plot designed to enact a terrible revenge on the US after a series of drone strikes killed a number of its most senior members.

 A spokesman for the Yemeni authorities was reported as saying they had been able to foil extremist plans to take over a number of key cities, including two ports in the south which account for the bulk of the country’s oil exports, as well as potential strikes against pipelines.

The terrorist organisation planned to strategically position its members, dressed as soldiers, outside the facilities. On a given signal, they would enact a coordinated overthrow of the oil supply infrastructure.

Meanwhile, a security source said dozens of members of al-Qa’ida had arrived in the capital of Sana’a in recent days. They were believed to be planning to hit Western diplomatic missions and state military headquarters with both explosions and suicide attacks.

A correspondent for the AFP news agency said concrete barriers surrounding the British embassy had been extended and reinforced as the capital went into lockdown.

The Yemeni army surrounded all foreign installations, government offices and the airport with tanks and troops, and bolstered defences at the strategic Bab al-Mandeb straits at the entrance to the Red Sea.

Although the immediate threat seemed to be focused on Yemen, the US has temporarily shut down 19 diplomatic posts in the Middle East and Africa.

It urged all its citizens to leave the country “immediately”, amid reports al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula had made a public statement urging Muslims to kill Americans “in every spot on Earth”.

The Department of State said in a travel warning that it had ordered the departure of non-emergency US government personnel “due to the continued potential for terrorist attacks,” adding that US citizens should leave immediately because of an “extremely high” security threat level.

But after taking its security precautions, Yemen’s government criticised the evacuations in a statement from its embassy in Washington. It said the diplomatic withdrawal “serves the interests of the extremists and undermines the exceptional co-operation” between Yemen and the international community in fighting terrorism.

Yemeni officials said yesterday a suspected US drone had successfully fired a missile at a car carrying four men in the al-Arqeen district of Marib province, setting it on fire and killing them. One of the dead was believed to be Saleh Jouti, a senior al-Qa’ida member.

Meanwhile a Yemeni military helicopter was shot down by a missile over the al-Qa’ida stronghold of Wadi Ubida in central Yemen, officials said. The eight who were killed, including a military commander, were part of a military force guarding oil installations in the province.

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