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Al-Qa'ida blamed as Western targets hit in Yemen

Suspected al-Qa'ida militants attacked two Western targets in Yemen yesterday, firing a rocketat a British diplomat's car and killing a Frenchman at a gas and oil installation.

The attacks bore the hallmarks of al-Qa'ida. The group has threatened to strike against Western targets and the Yemeni government, which declared war on its local arm after it claimed a failed attack on a US-bound airliner in December.

The Foreign Office said a British embassy vehicle carrying the deputy chief of the British mission was attacked. "The vehicle was on its way to the embassy, with five staff on board," a Foreign Office spokesman said. "One member of staff suffered minor injuries and is undergoing treatment, all others were unhurt."

A security source in Yemen said three Yemeni bystanders were wounded in the rocket-propelled grenade attack.

The Frenchman died in a shooting in the compound of the Austrian-owned oil and gas group OMV. A security source said the attacker was a Yemeni guard working for a private security firm, and government forces had disarmed him.

Authorities had arrested dozens of al-Qa'ida suspects and were questioning the 20-year-old guard, a security official said. Bystanders said the guard repeatedly shouted Islam's rallying cry of "Allahu Akbar" (God is Greatest) while shooting.

William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, called it a "shameful attack".

Both attacks followed tightened security in the capital of the country whose conflicts with a resurgent al-Qa'ida, secessionists in the south and Shia rebels in the north have raised Western and Gulf Arab fears that it is on the verge of becoming a failed state. Those fears worsened after the Yemen-based arm of al-Qa'ida claimed responsibility for the attempt to bomb a US-bound airliner.

Nicole Stracke of the Gulf Research Centre in Dubai said the militants may have chosen to target the British embassy because it was less heavily fortified than the US embassy. An al-Qa'ida suicide bomber attacked the British ambassador's convoy in April, killing himself and injuring three others.

Yemen's population of unemployed youths are seen as potential recruits for Islamist fighters. Western donor nations, including Britain, backed Yemen in its fight against al-Qa'ida at a United Nations meeting in New York last month. Yemen is the ancestral home of Osama bin Laden.