A botched suicide bombing targeted the British ambassador to Yemen early today, with Yemeni government sources pinning blame on Al Qaeda’s regional wing, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
A suicide bomber attacked British Ambassador Timothy Torlot’s convoy on its way to the British embassy in the capital, Sanaa, but killed only himself.
“There was a small explosion beside the ambassador’s car this morning,” an embassy spokeswoman told the The Wall Street Journal. “He was unhurt, and there were no further embassy staff or British nationals hurt.”
The Yemen Observer quoted an eyewitness who put the attack at 8:30 a.m. The blast injured at least two people – a woman and child passing by – and slightly damaged the vehicle, according to the eyewitness.
Sources at the Ministry of Interior said that the forensic teams were sent to the place of the incident to collect evident [sic] and find out details and motives of the incident.
Yemen’s interior ministry said the hit “bore the hallmarks of Al Qaeda,” reports Reuters news agency, and security expert Theodore Karasik said the attack showed that the terrorist group’s Yemen-based branch, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), was still a threat. (See map here)
“I think this shows Al Qaeda is not disappearing and it has been plotting and planning attacks in Yemen and abroad and I think this is a new campaign of targeted assassinations,” said Karasik, of the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis, to Reuters.
No one claimed immediate responsibility for the attack Monday. In December, AQAP quickly claimed responsibility for the alleged Christmas bombing attempt on a Detroit-bound US airplane. The suspect in that attempt, Nigerian student Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, had visited Yemen and reportedly contacted militants there. AQAP said it provided the explosive device for that operation, the Financial Times reported.
After the Christmas Day attack, Western governments pledged more security and development support to prevent impoverished Yemen from becoming a “failed state” and terrorist breeding ground. A string of terror attacks and attempts in the past few years include assaults on foreign tourists and a suicide attack on the US Embassy in September 2008 that killed 16 people.
The Christian Science Monitor reported earlier this month that the US is seeking to expand antiterror cooperation with Yemen, “where it believes a relatively new offshoot of Al Qaeda is gaining strength.”
But Yemen recently balked at a US request for authorization to kill or capture Yemeni-American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who is linked to the 9/11 attacks and believed to be hiding in Yemen. The government said it would need more evidence from the US on Mr. Awlaki’s terror ties, the Monitor reported – a position that critics interpreted as the Yemeni government’s reluctance to take on powerful tribes that have pledged to protect the preacher. The Yemeni Embassy in Washington later said that the government’s comments had been misinterpreted.
The Yemeni government has been fighting off a dual threat over much of the past year, as a rebel movement in the north gained momentum and southern secessionists stepped up their fight. While Yemen declared an end to the war against the Houthi rebels in March, it is still battling separatists in the south, according to the latest conflict update from the International Crisis Group on April 1. In March the government said it had killed three Al Qaeda members in airstrikes and arrested 11 suspected Al Qaeda terrorists, the update said.
Sources at the British Embassy told the Yemen Post today that the embassy had been closed after the attack and would remain closed indefinitely.