SANA'A // Yemen’s capital appeared to return to the frontline of al Qa’eda’s insurgency yesterday as a British diplomat was injured when an embassy motorcade was targeted with rocket-propelled grenades.
In a separate attack, a French oil worker was killed when a Yemeni security guard opened fired.
In Sana’a, two bystanders, including a woman and a child, were also injured along with Britain’s deputy chief of mission, Fionna Gibb, when armed men attacked the car, embassy officials and local sources said.
“The embassy vehicle was on its way to the British Embassy with five embassy staff on board. One member of staff suffered minor injuries and is undergoing treatment, all others were unhurt,” Daisey Organ, a British Embassy spokeswoman, said in an interview. “We are aware of at least two bystanders injured during the attack, and are seeking further detail.” Local sources said three bystanders were injured.
Yemen’s interior ministry said that the attack carried the “fingerprints of al Qa’eda”.
“The security forces are conducting their investigations to identify and arrest the perpetrators of this terrorist operation,” the interior ministry website quoted an unnamed security official as saying.
The official said one British national was injured in the attack which hit the back of the vehicle.
Mohammed Saif Haidar, a Yemeni researcher specialising in al Qa’eda at the Sana’a-based Saba Centre for Strategic Studies, said the attack is an attempt to wake up al Qa’eda sleeper cells in Sana’a and bring the capital back to the frontline of their operations.
“The attack demonstrates that Sana’a will be an important battlefield in the fight with al Qa’eda militants, who are active in the capital. It also shows that there is a keen monitoring of the activities of western diplomats, and this poses a lot of challenges for the security agencies,” Mr Haidar said in an interview yesterday.
Al Qa’eda takes into account the political importance of Sana’a as the capital, where western interests such as oil company offices and embassies are located, he added.
“This attack also confirms that al Qa’eda’s shift from western targets to government ones in recent months has been a mere tactic rather than a strategy. The western targets in my opinion remain a primary target for al Qa’eda whether in Sana’a or anywhere else as it falls in line with al Qa’eda rhetoric that they are fighting the enemies of Islam,” Mr Haider said.
Although there was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, it came after a recent increase in the threat of attacks by al Qa’eda forces in Yemen, including a similar attack on the British ambassador to Yemen this year.
Tim Torlot survived when a suicide bomber hurled himself at his armoured car in Sana’a in April. Three bystanders were injured.
Al Qa’eda in Yemen claimed responsibility for the attack and said it was in response to the UK’s role in hosting the London donors’ conference on Yemen in January.
“There will be a review of security, just as there was after the April attack,” said a diplomatic source in London who requested anonymity.
“But there is only so much you can do. All our staff get protection to and from the embassy and the building itself is as safe as it can be without becoming an impregnable fortress, which would defeat the objective of having an embassy there in the first place.”
William Hague, the British foreign secretary, said in a statement that yesterday’s “shameful attack on British diplomats will only redouble Britain’s determination to work with … Yemen to help address the challenges that country faces”.
In the second incident yesterday, a Yemeni security guard shot and killed a Frenchman working for the Austrian oil and gas company OMV, the company said in a statement.
One security official said an armed guard opened fire, crying “Allahu Akbar”. He was unable to say if the guard was motivated by personal or other reasons.
The interior ministry official said the guard, identified as Hisham Mohammed Asem, had been arrested.
Police investigators named the shooter as Hisham al Wafi, a 19-year-old they described as “religious” who had been working as a security guard for OMV for three months.
A British national was also wounded in the attack and was hospitalised, according to Ms Organ, who added that there was no link between this incident and the attack on the British Embassy vehicle.