US Embassy in Yemen targeted in complex assault
Smoke rises from the vicinity of the US Embassy in Sana'a, Yemen. Photo from Voice of America.
Yemeni security forces repelled a complex attack on the US Embassy in the capital of Sana'a. More than 16 were killed after terrorists detonated multiple bombs then launched a ground attack in an attempt to breach the compound.
The attack began after several bombs were detonated just outside the embassy. The terrorists then ambushed the first responders by using prepositioned snipers. The terrorists were wearing uniforms of Yemeni security forces and driving what appeared to be police cars, which enabled them to get close to the heavily fortified compound.
A sustained firefight then ensued between the terrorists and the embassy guards. The exchange of fire included machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades, and hand grenades according to one report. It was reported that one of the attackers was wearing a suicide vest. Six attackers were killed as well as a dozen Yemeni security forces.
Two Americans are among several civilians reported to have been killed in the attack. The family of Susan Ali Elbaneh, a US citizen, said she was killed today in the terrorist attack in Yemen. The 19 year old Yemeni-American was one of the civilians killed outside the embassy during the attack. The newlywed Elbaneh was alongside her husband of two months, a family member reported.
Susan Elbaneh is a relative of Yemeni-American Jaber Elbaneh who is on the FBI's most wanted list. Yemen has refused to extradite him. There are no indications that Ms. Elbaneh's presence at the embassy was anything more than a random occurrence. She accompanied her sister in law who had an appointment with the embassy. Ms. Elbaneh's nephew, aged three, may also be among the casualties.
The US withdrew nonessential personnel in March due to terror threats and only recently decided to reverse that decision.
A group calling itself Yemeni Islamic Jihad took credit for today's attack. The group last month claimed responsibility for a July suicide car bombing at a police station in Hadramout killed one policeman and injured 18.
After the attack, authorities rounded up more than 50 suspected militants including Aden Abyan Islamic Army leader Khalid Abdul Nabi and Saudi Muhammad bin Nayif al Qahtani. After the arrests, Yemen announced that it had thwarted an attack in Saudi Arabia targeting oil industries.
The police station had been previously bombed with no injuries. Yemeni Islamic Jihad also threatened a future attack in the capital.
Yemeni Islamic Jihad issued a statement today threatening more attacks unless the Yemeni government met its demands for the release of several members from jail.
"We, the organization of Islamic Jihad in Yemen declare our responsibility for the suicide attack on the American embassy in Sanaa," the statement read.
"We will carry out the rest of the series of attacks on the other embassies that were declared previously, until our demands are met by the Yemeni government."
Hamza al Quaity, the former leader of Yemeni Islamic Jihad, issued an audio statement in August threatening future attacks if al Qaeda prisoners were not released from jail. The Yemeni press at the time reported the failure of negotiations between Quaity and the head of the Political Security Organization, Ghalib al Qamish, who frequently negotiates truce agreements on behalf of the Yemeni government. Quaity said in his August statement, "As for you, oh [Ariel] Sharon of Yemen, Ghalib al Qamish, you'll see how our colleagues will be freed from your prisons, Allah willing."
Quaity was reported killed by Yemeni security forces in mid-August.
The relationship between Yemeni Islamic Jihad group and al Qaeda in Yemen is unclear. The latter is headed by Qasim al Raymi and Nasser al Wahayshi, two of the 23 al Qaeda terrorists who escaped prison in February 2006. Quaity also escaped during the same prison break and later formed Yemeni Islamic Jihad. The three have strong ties to al Qaeda.
The rest of the escapees are either dead or have been granted a conditional pardon after surrendering. Jamal al Badawi, who facilitated the attack on the USS Cole, is among the escapees who were granted a loose house arrest, a development that strained US-Yemeni relations. A third group calling itself Yemen Soldiers Brigade has taken credit for a spate of attacks on oil pipelines and security installations which caused little damage and few injuries.
Yemeni terror groups have launched several attacks on Western embassies this year. Early in 2008, mortar attacks were launched in Sana'a against Western targets including the US Embassy, Italian Embassy, and a Western housing complex. The mortars missed their targets in each case. The Yemen Soldiers Brigade took credit for the attacks.
Prior suicide car bombings include coordinated attacks in September 2006 on oil facilities in Marib and Hadramout, and an attack on tourists in Marib in July 2007 that killed eight elderly Spanish tourists.
Bill Roggio contributed to this report.