September 17, 2008

Death Toll Mounts at U.S. Embassy Attack in Yemen


SAN'A, Yemen - A car bomb exploded at the front gate of the U.S. Embassy in Yemen's capital today, killing six Yemeni guards and four civilians, officials said. No American personnel were reported hurt.

Several "secondary explosions" followed the first blast, the embassy said in a statement. A Yemeni security official said the compound was hit by two car bombs, followed by heavy gunfire that lasted about 10 minutes.

Six attackers, including a suicide bomber wearing an explosive vest, were also killed in the attack, reports say.

Ryan Gliha, a spokesman for the embassy, said several nearby homes were badly damaged. Gliha, speaking from inside the large, heavily guarded compound, could not immediately say whether the embassy suffered any damage.

The embassy in Yemen, which is the ancestral homeland of al- Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, has been targeted by militants at least four times since 2003, most recently in March when mortar rounds crashed into a girls' school next door, killing a Yemeni security guard and wounding more than a dozen girls.

The Yemeni guards killed today were assigned to sentry duty outside the embassy by the Interior Ministry. The civilians who died in the explosion were waiting to enter the compound, the embassy said.

They included three Yemenis and one Indian national, said the Yemeni security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Regional TV news networks Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya showed shaky footage of the embassy's area following the blasts, with a heavy cloud of black smoke rising from a spot just beyond concrete blocks painted yellow.

The embassy is ringed by two layers of these blocks, according to San'a residents familiar with the area.

A medical official, meanwhile, said at least seven Yemeni nationals were wounded and taken to the city's Republican hospital. They are residents of a nearby housing compound and included children, he said.

Both the security and medical officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information to the media.

Explosions and heavy gunfire were heard near the embassy in the eastern section of San'a and police cordoned off the area, according to a government security official and an AP reporter at the scene.

The AP reporter said ambulance cars rushed to the area and hundreds of heavily armed security forces were deployed around the compound. Police kept reporters well away from the immediate area, he said.

The regional networks also reported that one of the embassy's buildings caught fire. The AP reporter said a fire truck was seen headed to the scene, but Gliha, the embassy spokesman, denied the report.

They also reported that gunmen in police uniforms arrived at the scene soon after the first blast and immediately fired at the embassy guards. This could not be independently confirmed.

Al-Qaida has an active presence in Yemen despite government efforts to destroy it.

In March 2002, a Yemeni man lobbed a sound grenade into the U.S. Embassy grounds a day after Vice President Dick Cheney made a stop for talks with officials at San'a airport.

The attacker, who allegedly sought to retaliate against what he called American bias toward Israel, was sentenced to 10 years in prison but the sentence was later reduced to seven years.

In March 2003, two people were fatally shot and dozens more were injured when police clashed with demonstrators trying to storm the embassy when tens of thousands rallied against the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

In 2006, a gunman opened fire outside the embassy but was shot and arrested by Yemeni guards. The gunman, armed with a Kalashnikov rifle, claimed he wanted to kill Americans.

The group was blamed for the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole destroyer in the Yemeni port of Aden that killed 17 American sailors and an attack on a French oil tanker that killed one person two years later.

Originally published by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS.

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