16 dead in attack on U.S. Embassy

The Baltimore Sun

BEIRUT, Lebanon -

A well-coordinated attack on the U.S. Embassy in Yemen's capital yesterday morning left 16 people dead but was ultimately thwarted by security barriers and Yemeni soldiers, six of whom died in the car-bomb explosion and ensuing gunbattle.

No American personnel were injured in the failed attempt by the attackers to breach the well-guarded compound's gates and to get near the building that houses U.S. officials.

An obscure group called Islamic Jihad, unrelated to the Palestinian organization, claimed responsibility for the attack. Yemeni authorities have blamed the group in past attacks that have later been claimed by al-Qaida in postings on the Internet.

"We, the organization of Islamic Jihad in Yemen, declare our responsibility for the suicide attack on the American Embassy in San'a," the group said in a statement, according to Reuters news agency.

Among the dead were at least six Yemeni soldiers, six of the alleged attackers, four civilians, a security guard and an Indian national, Yemen's official Saba news agency reported.

Susan Elbaneh, 18, a U.S. citizen from Lackawanna, N.Y., was killed along with her Yemeni husband as they stood outside the embassy, family members said yesterday. They were apparently there to do paperwork for his move to the U.S.

The attack added to growing fears about instability in the impoverished and war-torn Arabian peninsula nation of 23 million. Yemen is perched aside a critical sea checkpoint through which nearly 5 percent of the world's crude oil passes every day.

Yesterday's attack was the deadliest by Islamic militants on a U.S. target in Yemen since the October 2000 attack by al-Qaida militants on the U.S. Navy guided missile destroyer Cole in the port city of Aden. It was also one of the more elaborately organized attacks in the country this year, showing the continued resilience of al-Qaida in the ancestral home of Osama bin Laden even as the U.S.-allied government regularly arrests and kills militants.

Details of the 9:15 a.m. attack remain sketchy. The Associated Press quoted a U.S. Embassy spokesman saying that a car filled with explosives attempted unsuccessfully to break through the front gate of the heavily guarded diplomatic outpost. A security official cited by Saba said two explosives-laden vehicles tried to break through security barriers surrounding the embassy.

The attackers, some dressed in army uniforms, were stopped short of the compound's walls by guards and huge security barriers, but civilians waiting in line for visas outside the embassy were among the casualties. Three police officers and seven civilians were injured, including children in a residential compound across the street from the embassy, home to many Westerners.

A U.S. citizen in the compound at the time of the attack said she heard a big explosion followed by gunfire and another series of explosions. Frightened employees and visitors at the embassy lay down on the floor as the walls shook, said the woman, who asked not to be identified for security reasons.

"I was sitting with some people in a meeting, and we heard this loud bomb, and there was some smaller explosions," she said in a telephone interview. "They said, 'Get under your desks.' It was a little unnerving. Everybody was frightened at a certain point. Nobody knew what was going on."

Other witnesses told Arab-language news media that gunfire and rocket-propelled grenade explosions followed the first blast for 10 minutes.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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