ADEN - Suspected Al-Qaeda militants early Tuesday blew up a pipeline pumping liquefied gas to Yemen's southern Balhaf export terminal, causing a complete halt in operations, security officials said.
The gunmen blew up the gas pipeline "at Station 5, in the village of Zahira, in the Shabwa province," said provincial security chief brigadier-general Ahmed Omeir.
He said the attack took place around 1:00 am Tuesday (2200 GMT Monday).
Another security official accused Al-Qaeda militants, who remain active in the region, of being behind the attack.
"The attack is the work of Al-Qaeda, which continues to be operative in the province," he said, requesting anonymity.
Witnesses said that dozens of villagers fled their houses due to a raging fire caused by the explosion.
The fire was put out later in the day after disconnecting the attacked station, other witnesses said, adding that army troops have been deployed as engineers began to assess the damage.
France's Total has an almost 40 percent interest in the Balhaf plant.
The 320-kilometre (200-mile) pipeline linking Marib province to Balhaf, in Yemen's mostly lawless south, has been repeatedly sabotaged by Al-Qaeda militants.
On May 13, the pipeline was blown up near Mayfaa, also in Shabwa, nearly three weeks after it was sabotaged on April 26, shortly after it was repaired following a similar March attack.
Yemen began exporting liquefied natural gas from Balhaf in 2009.
In May, a French security official working for Total was wounded and a Yemeni soldier killed when gunmen attacked their car in Sayun in the eastern province of Hadramawt.
Al-Qaeda's branch in Yemen has exploited the decline in central government control that accompanied Arab Spring-inspired protests that eventually forced president Ali Abdullah Saleh to cede power in February.
Al-Qaeda fighters had captured Zinjibar, Jaar, Shuqra and other towns across Abyan province, but government forces in May launched an all-out offensive and recaptured the towns the following month.
On Saturday, militants suspected to be linked to Al-Qaeda killed 19 soldiers in a rocket attack and suicide bombing that targeted intelligence headquarters in Aden, the main southern city in Yemen.