Yemen’s president said Friday a promise to al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri to “change the course of history” had led to the closure of Western embassies in the country this month.
Abd Rabuh Mansur Hadi, who was quoted by a source close to him, said the matter came up in a conversation he had with U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House on August 1.
According to the source, U.S. intelligence services had intercepted a conversation between Zawahiri and Nasser al-Wuhayshi, head of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
In it, Wuhayshi told Zawahiri he would be hearing of something “that will change the course of history,” the source quoted Hadi as saying.
On August 4 the United States shut 19 of its consulates and embassies in the Arab and Muslim countries amid what American officials said was a threat of an imminent al-Qaeda attack.
It finally reopened the embassy in Sanaa on Tuesday -- two weeks after it was shut -- although other missions had already reopened.
Yemen is the ancestral home of Al-Qaeda founder Osama Bin Laden and the home base of the militant faction AQAP.
Britain and France had also shut their embassies in Yemen emulating the US move but they later reopened them.
The source close to Hadi also said he had told U.S. officials he believed Al-Qaeda would not strike outside Yemen, and that their precautionary steps were “exaggerated.”
In the remarks delivered Friday to police officers, Hadi also said a bid to attack an oil terminal in Yemen had been foiled after the phone conversation between Wuhayshi and Zawahiri was intercepted.
According to Hadi, Al-Qaeda had “rigged two truck with seven tons of TNT explosives each” but that one of the vehicles was spotted by a drone in early August and taken out in eastern Yemen.
The truck was heading towards the Dhaba terminal in Hadramawt province at the time and was bombed before it reached its destination, he said.
On August 7, Yemen said it had foiled an al-Qaeda plot to storm the Canadian-run Mina al-Dhaba oil terminal and seize the nearby Hadramawt provincial capital Al-Mukalla.
Hadi said authorities were still searching for the second explosives-packed truck but had arrested members of a cell who had helped “facilitate the operation.”
He added that a wave of drone attacks over the past two weeks on suspected Al-Qaeda targets in Yemen had killed 40 militants, including some ring leaders in the Sanaa region.
Earlier Friday, the official Saba news agency carried excerpts of Hadi’s remarks but without giving details concerning the Al-Qaeda threats.
In its report, Saba quoted the president as saying he has asked Washington to provide Yemen with drones.
“I have talked with the US administration about helping us with this technology... Yemenis are clever and can understand it very quickly,” Hadi said.
The president defended the use of drones by saying they were more precise than other weapons.
“The cooperation in the field of combating terrorism is not a secret,” said Hadi referring to his country’s U.S.-backed fight against al-Qaeda militants.