Attack Against U.S. Embassy In Yemen Blamed on Al-Qaeda

At least 10 people are hurt after a pair of bombs targeted the U.S. Embassy in Yemen. Video by AP
U.S. Embassy attacked
By Ellen Knickmeyer
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, September 18, 2008

SANAA, Yemen, Sept. 17 -- Attackers used vehicle bombs, rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons to mount a coordinated assault on the U.S. Embassy here Wednesday, leaving 10 guards and civilians dead outside the main gate but failing to breach the walled compound. No Americans were killed.

Yemeni officials and experts on al-Qaeda said an aggressive new generation of the group's leaders in Yemen was responsible for the assault, the deadliest attack on a U.S. target in this country since the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole. Yemeni security forces have begun to pursue al-Qaeda fighters more vigorously this summer, following years of complaints by U.S. officials that the government was not fulfilling promises to counter the group.

"The attack on the U.S. Embassy was retaliation by al-Qaeda for the measures taken by the government to fight the terrorists," said Foreign Minister Abou Bakr al-Qurbi, according to a statement.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said in Washington that the multiphased attack bore "all the hallmarks" of al-Qaeda and credited "the vigilance and the response" of Yemeni forces with preventing a more devastating assault. The government has received an average of nearly $40 million a year in U.S. economic and military aid since 2000.

The attack began at 9:15 a.m., when the sound of automatic weapons fire brought resident Yahyah Mousa to his roof overlooking the street outside the walled embassy compound.

"I saw soldiers shooting," before a jarring blast flung pieces of metal, glass and flesh onto the roof, Mousa said. As he and his family fled their home, at least five more explosions sounded behind them, amid heavy gunfire, Mousa said. The blasts sent plumes of black smoke rising over this medieval city of narrow towers and cramped streets.

McCormack, who provided the most detailed U.S. account of the assault, said the first vehicle exploded near a guard post. Cameras then recorded attackers taking positions nearby, until a second vehicle packed with explosives detonated near a sidewalk.

The use of two vehicle bombs -- one to breach the perimeter of a compound, a second to drive inside and explode -- is a tactic used by the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq. The explosions draped cars on the street in flames and smoke. People across much of this city of 1.5 million heard and felt the blasts.

Six Yemeni security officers, including an embassy guard, were killed in the attack, along with four civilians and six assailants. Embassy spokesman Ryan Gliha said there were no reports of injuries to Americans or major damage to the building.

A half-hour after the explosions, scores of soldiers cleared traffic to allow military ambulances to rush injured security officers to the city's military hospital. Helicopters circled the embassy. Automatic gunfire crackled.

The embassy has been the scene of at least four attacks since 2000. In March, three mortar rounds hit a girls' school next door, killing a school guard. The State Department later evacuated some personnel, allowing them to return only last month.

Yemen is the poorest country in the Arab world, and violent strands of Islamist ideology, much of it imported from neighboring Saudi Arabia, have won followers in many tiers of society here.

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