Blast sparks fire at major oil pipeline in Yemen

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SANAA, Yemen (AP) — A Yemeni government spokesman said a blast hit pipelines connecting oil storage tanks with the refinery in the city of Aden on Friday, causing a huge fire.

Naser Shayef, spokesman for the country's refineries administration, told The Associated Press that the explosion took place at 1:00 a.m. and sent thick smoke billowing over the city. Firefighters put the blaze out two hours later and only two oil pipelines were sabotaged, he said.

No group claimed responsibility for the attack. This is the first time pipelines have come under attack since July, when southern fighters backed by a Saudi-led coalition secured Aden and repelled Shiite rebels and forces loyal to an ousted president.

Since then, the city has witnessed a series of militant attacks, most of which were claimed by the local Islamic State affiliate.

IS-linked militants in Yemen and the country's al-Qaida branch have exploited the chaos of the civil war to stage significant land grabs and expand their control in the south. Al-Qaida fighters have captured much of Hadramawt province and its capital, Mukalla. Washington considers the branch to be the world's most dangerous.

In Mukalla, security officials said al-Qaida members flogged three young men in an open square in front of hundreds of people on Friday. One was given 13 lashes for allegedly drinking alcohol, another received 200 lashes after being accused of insulting religion, and the third was flogged 100 times for allegedly committing adultery.

The officials and witnesses said the flogging order was issued by a special court set up by al-Qaida.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they weren't authorized to speak to journalists while witnesses feared reprisals.

Yemen's civil war pits Shiite rebels known as Houthis and their allies against the internationally backed government forces and a Saudi-led coalition.

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