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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

BREAKING NEWS: Al Qaeda blamed for US Embassy bombing

Suspected Al Qaeda disguised as security forces on Wednesday launched an explosive assault on the U.S. Embassy in Yemen's capital, Sanaa, killing 10 Yemeni police and civilians, officials said. The attack involved two car bombs, a spokesman for Yemen's embassy in Washington said. Six attackers, including a suicide bomber wearing an explosive vest, were also killed in the attack, Mohammed al-Basha said.

The attack involved at least four explosions -- including at least one car bomb -- and sniper fire, a senior State Department official said, adding that no U.S. Embassy employees were killed. The heavily fortified compound in the capital of Yemen -- the ancestral home of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden -- has previously been targeted in attacks.

The U.S. official said the attackers initially opened fire outside the embassy's security gate, then there was the main explosion followed by a secondary explosion. At some point, snipers positioned across the street from the embassy opened fire on Yemeni first responders as they arrived on the scene, the official said. Those killed include six Yemeni policemen and four civilians, he said, noting that the number of wounded is unclear.

Yemen believes al Qaeda is responsible for the attack, al-Basha said. Media reports said Islamic Jihad in Yemen -- which is affiliated with al Qaeda -- has claimed responsibility for the attack. Trev Mason, a British national who lives near the embassy, said he saw "a massive fireball" near compound. "We heard the sounds of a heavy gun battle going on," he said. "I looked out my window, and we saw the first explosion going off -- a massive fireball very close to the U.S. Embassy. The gun battle went on for a further 10 to 15 minutes, followed by two further loud explosions."

The first explosion happened about 9:15 a.m. Wednesday (0615 GMT) and was followed by several secondary blasts, said U.S. Embassy spokesman Ryan Gliha. Gliha was at the embassy at the time of the attack and said he felt the compound shake. "We were all ordered to assume what we call a duck-and-cover position which is a position where we guard ourselves and bodies from potential debris," Gliha said. "From that vantage point, I can't tell you much after that except we did feel several explosions after the main explosion that shook the ground." Al-Basha called it a "despicable and heinous act" particularly because it took place during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

The White House has condemned the bombing and vowed to "to increase our counterterrorism activities to prevent more attacks from taking place." The U.S. official said that Yemen's cooperation in fighting terrorism "needs to be better." Witnesses recounted how they heard gunfire, and said they saw ambulances rushing from the scene. Yemeni officials said the first car contained people in police uniforms who exchanged fire with Yemeni security forces, the officials said. The second car exploded after it passed an outermost gate to the Embassy but before it reached a second protective barrier, the officials said.

But al-Basha said there were two cars packed with explosives involved in the attack.

The U.S. State Department has warned of violence that it attributes to Islamic extremists in Yemen. It has cited concern "about possible attacks by extremist individuals or groups against U.S. citizens, facilities, businesses and perceived interests." The State Department ordered the departure of all non-emergency American staff from the Embassy, along with their family members, in April, after attacks against the Embassy and a residential compound. That order was lifted last month.

In March, three mortar rounds landed near the Embassy, injuring Yemeni students at a nearby school and Yemeni government security personnel, the State Department said. The next month, an expatriate residential compound in the Hadda neighborhood was attacked by mortar fire. Suspected extremists fired two mortar rounds toward the Yemen Customs Authority and Italian Embassy in April, as well, but no one was hurt.

Authorities in Yemen have been struggling to curb the activities of al Qaeda-linked groups, with militants seen as having free rein outside major cities.

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