Islamist militants attacked the US embassy in the Yemeni capital with two car bombs and rockets on Wednesday, leaving 16 people dead, as Washington blamed Al-Qaeda for the strike.
Map locating the Yemeni capital Sanaa. Islamist militants attacked the US embassy in the Yemeni capital Sanaa with two car bombs and rockets on Wednesday, leaving 16 people dead, in the second strike on the high-security compound in six months.(AFP/Jfs)
Six Yemeni soldiers, four civilians and six attackers, including one wearing an explosives belt, were among the dead, the interior ministry said.
A US official said there were no American casualties in what was the second attack on the high-security compound in Sanaa six months.
A shadowy group calling itself Islamic Jihad in Yemen claimed responsibility and threatened similar strikes on the British, Saudi and United Arab Emirates missions in Sanaa.
The United States said the attack bore the hallmarks of Al-Qaeda and President George W. Bush said it was an attempt by extremists to drive the United States out of regions like the Middle East.
"This attack is a reminder that we are at war with extremists who would murder innocent people to achieve their ideological objectives," he said.
"One objective of these extremists as they kill is to try to cause the United States to lose our nerve and to withdraw from regions of the world, and our message is -- is that we want to help governments survive the extremists, we want people to live normal lives."
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said "I think it is safe to say ... the attacks bear all the hallmarks of an Al-Qaeda attack."
Witnesses said a fierce firefight erupted after gunmen raked Yemeni police guarding the heavily fortified embassy compound, before a suicide bomber blew up a car at the entrance, setting off a fireball.
A series of explosions followed as the compound came under rocket and small arms fire, they said, adding that the force of the bomb blast hurled pieces of flesh a hundred metres (yards) away.
The Yemeni interior ministry said two car bombs were used in the attack.
"Two booby-trapped cars tried to crash through the security cordon thrown around the US embassy, but security guards managed to (provoke) their detonation far from the building, leading to the death of the six attackers, one of whom wore an explosives belt," a ministry official said.
In March, a schoolgirl and a policeman were killed and 19 people wounded in a hail of mortar fire that US diplomats said targeted the embassy in Yemen, which has been battling a wave of attacks by Al-Qaeda militants for years.
After a rocket attack against a residential compound used by US oilmen in April, the US State Department ordered the evacuation of non-essential diplomatic staff. The order was lifted last month.
The embassy said it would work with the Yemeni authorities to bring the perpetrators of the "heinous" attack to justice, adding that both its chancery and consular sections would remain closed until further notice.
All roads to the embassy were closed off by security forces and staff were cooped up inside the compound, located in a district housing several embassies in east Sanaa.
Briton Trev Mason told CNN television he heard at least three big explosions around the embassy from his nearby residential compound.
"We heard the sounds of a heavy gunbattle going on. I looked out of my window and we saw the first explosion going off, a massive fireball very close to the US embassy," he said.
The statement from Islamic Jihad, which could not be authenticated, claimed the group was behind the "martyr" operation. "We will pursue the series of explosions according to our pre-established plan," it said.
The group threatened to "blow up the embassies" of Britain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates "if our brothers are not freed" from Yemeni prisons.
Militants have carried out a string of attacks in impoverished Yemen, the ancestral homeland of Saudi-born Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.
In October 2000, Al-Qaeda attacked the American warship the USS Cole off the southern port of Aden, using a small boat packed with explosives, killing 17 American sailors.
Al-Qaeda's local wing Jund Al-Yemen Brigades has claimed responsibility for deadly attacks on Belgian and Spanish tourists in the past two years.
Last month, Yemen announced the arrest of 30 suspected Al-Qaeda members in a crackdown on the network in the east of the country and the death of a local chief and four others belonging to Al-Qaeda in a shootout with police.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon strongly condemned as "totally unacceptable" the "terrorist" car bombing in Sanaa.
Yemeni Foreign Minister Abu Bakr al-Kurbi said it was "an attempt by the terrorists to retaliate for the successful government measures which finished off or besieged a number of terrorist groups."