US embassy in Yemen closes over terror threat

Sunday 03 January 2010 10:30

The US Embassy in Yemen closed today in response to ongoing al-Qa'ida threats to attack American interests in the Arabian Peninsula country.

The confrontation with al-Qa'ida's branch in Yemen has gained new urgency after the failed attempt on Christmas Day to bomb a US airliner headed to Detroit.

President Barack Obama said Saturday that al-Qa'ida's branch in Yemen was behind the attempt. A 23-year-old Nigerian accused in the attack, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, has told US investigators he received training and instructions from al-Qa'ida operatives in Yemen.

A statement posted today on the embassy Web site said it had closed but provided no further details. An embassy spokesman reached on the phone would not comment if there was a specific threat. On Thursday, the embassy sent a warden notice to American citizens in Yemen urging them to be vigilant and practice security awareness.

It was unclear from the statement how long the embassy would be closed.

There have been a spate of assaults on the US Embassy in Yemen, the ancestral homeland of Osama bin Laden and the site of the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole.

An attack on Sept. 16, 2008 killed 19 people, including an 18-year-old American woman and six militants. None of those killed or wounded were US diplomats or embassy employees. The attack was carried out using vehicles packed with explosive and gunmen. The attack was the deadliest assault on a US embassy in a decade.

On Jan. 26 last year, gunmen in a car exchanged fire Monday with police at a checkpoint near the embassy just hours after it had received threats of a possible attack,

The embassy's closure follows an announcement of US plans to more than double its counterterrorism aid to the impoverished, fragmented Arab nation in 2010 to boost the fight.

Gen. David Petraeus, the US general who oversees the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and who announced the increased aid, arrived in Yemen on Saturday and met with President Ali Abdullah Saleh, a Yemeni government official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the press.

Yemen has also deployed several hundred extra troops to two mountainous eastern provinces that are al-Qa'ida's main strongholds in the country and where the suspected would-be Christmas airplane bomber may have visited, security officials said.

US and Yemeni investigators have been trying to track Abdulmutallab's steps in Yemen, which he visited from August until Dec. 7. He was there ostensibly to study Arabic in San'a, but he disappeared for much of that time.

al-Qa'ida has also killed a number of top security officials in the provinces in recent months, underscoring Yemeni government's lack of control of the country. Tribes hold sway in the region, and many of them are discontented with the central government and have given refuge to al-Qa'ida fighters, both Yemenis and other Arabs coming from Saudi Arabia or war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Yemen has carried out a series of airstrikes and raids against al-Qa'ida hide-outs in nearby provinces last month. The strikes, Yemen's heaviest in years, targeted what officials said were top leaders in the terror network's branch there. But the intensified campaign has not yet reached into the strongholds of Marib and Jouf.

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