Yemen: Double attacks target Westerners

Militants attack British convoy and kill Frenchman; concerns raised over the safety of Westerners in San'a

October 6, 2010 15:10
3 minute read.
Yemen Road Blocks

Yemen Road Blocks 311. (photo credit: AP)

SAN'A, Yemen — Assailants fired a rocket at a convoy carrying Britain's No. 2 diplomat in Yemen  and killed a Frenchman working for an Austrian oil company Wednesday in a pair of attacks that heightened fears over the safety of Westerners in a country facing a growing militant threat.

The diplomatic car was carrying five staff members, including the deputy chief of mission, to the embassy in San'a when it came under fire, apparently from a rocket-propelled grenade. One embassy official suffered minor injuries and was undergoing treatment, while the rest were unharmed, Britain's Foreign Office said in a statement.

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It was the second attack in less than six months to target British officials in the country. Yemeni authorities recently boosted security around embassies in San'a after receiving information that al-Qaida was planning an attack.

The embassy's deputy chief of mission, Fionna Gibb, was in the car, but not injured. Britain's Foreign Office said in a statement one staff member suffered minor injuries.

In London, British Foreign Secretary William Hague condemned the "shameful attack" and said it "will only redouble Britain's determination to work with the government of Yemen to help address the challenges that country faces."

He said Yemen was a difficult and dangerous place to work and the blast was "a reminder that we have some way to go" in efforts to make the country safer.

Three bystanders also were wounded, a Yemeni security official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.

A Yemeni who arrived at the site soon after hearing the explosion said he saw two people fleeing the scene.

"They were wearing a shirt and they did not have their faces covered," Ali Mossad told Associated Press Television News. "Next to the site we found a bag with parts of the weapon launcher."

The attack came a day after a visit by third-ranking US diplomat William Burns to discuss the security situation.

In April, the British ambassador escaped an attack by a suicide bomber who blew himself up near the diplomat's armored car in a poor neighborhood of the capital. Wednesday's attack took place in the same neighborhood of San'a, near the British Embassy.

The violence has cast doubt on the effectiveness of the Yemeni government's US-backed campaign against al-Qaida militants, who have found a haven in parts of the rugged, mountainous nation where the central government's control is weak.

A Yemeni security guard also shot and killed a Frenchman contracted with the Austrian oil and gas company OMV in a separate attack outside the Yemeni capital, the company said in a statement. The Frenchman was working for OMV as a procurement officer. A British national was also injured in the attack and was hospitalized.

The motive for the attack was under investigation, but OMV said it "currently sees no political background for the action."

OMV is an oil exploration and production company and has been active in Yemen since 2003.

Yemen says it is waging an aggressive campaign to uproot al-Qaida, and Washington has earmarked some $150 million in military assistance to the government to help combat the threat with training, equipment and intelligence help.

Burns said Tuesday that the US will continue to support in its fight against terrorism.

Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, an offshoot of Osama bin Laden's terror network, was formed more than a year ago when Yemen and Saudi militant groups merged. Al-Qaida fighters are believed to have built up strongholds in remote parts of the country, allying with powerful tribes that resent the government of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

The group's fighters attacked the US Embassy in San'a twice in 2008, and earlier this year a number of Western embassies, including the U.S. and British, shut down for days in response to threats of attack.

The Nigerian suspect in the failed Christmas Day plot to bomb a Detroit-bound airliner has said he received training from al-Qaida militants in Yemen, according to US investigators. In February, the offshoot's military commander, Qassim al-Raimi, warned of further attacks against Americans.

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