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Bid to blow up British ambassador in Yemen

A suspected Al Qaeda suicide bomber targeted a convoy of the British ambassador to Yemen early on Monday, killing himself and injuring three others, but the envoy was unharmed, Yemeni and British officials said.

world Updated: Apr 26, 2010 20:59 IST

A suspected Al Qaeda suicide bomber targeted a convoy of the British ambassador to Yemen early on Monday, killing himself and injuring three others, but the envoy was unharmed, Yemeni and British officials said.

The hit "bore the hallmarks of Al Qaeda", Yemen's interior ministry said.

Ambassador Tim Torlot was on his way to the embassy when the blast occurred, the ministry said. Two of the wounded were security officials escorting the ambassador's motorcade, while the third was a bystander.

Britain's Foreign Office confirmed that a small explosion took place beside the ambassador's car. He was unhurt and no other embassy staff were injured, it said in a statement.

The embassy will be closed to the public indefinitely.

The suicide bomber was a young man dressed in sports gear, the interior ministry said, citing security services. The force of the blast scattered his body parts to the roofs of nearby houses, the ministry said.

Yemen has for years been battling Al Qaeda and other militant groups. The regional wing of the militant group, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, is based in Yemen and has previously threatened and attacked embassies.

In 2008, two suicide bombers set off a series of blasts outside the heavily fortified U.S. embassy in Sanaa, killing 16 people. The attack was claimed by a group called Islamic Jihad in Yemen, which analysts said was linked to al Qaeda.

Al Qaeda also bombed the USS Cole in Aden harbour in 2000, killing 17 sailors. Two years later an Al Qaeda attack damaged a French supertanker in the Gulf of Aden, and the group has claimed the killings of a number of foreign tourists in Yemen.

In August, it sent a suicide bomber posing as a repentant militant to Saudi Arabia, where he narrowly failed to kill the kingdom's anti-terrorism chief Prince Mohammed bin Nayef.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Monday's explosion, but a Yemeni security official told Reuters that dozens of Al Qaeda suspects had been arrested in different parts of Yemen in connection with the attack.

The official also identified the suicide bomber as Othman Noaman, a Yemeni student from the southern town of Taizz who he said had received training from Al Qaeda in the province of Marib and had come to the attention of authorities.

GLOBAL CONCERN

Yemen's Al Qaeda arm most recently claimed a December bomb attempt on a US-bound plane and revelations followed that the suspected Nigerian bomber had visited Yemen and had been in contact with militants there, prompting a major crackdown.

Analysts said Monday's attack suggested Al Qaeda still posed a significant threat in Yemen, next door to top oil exporter Saudi Arabia.

"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 Theodore Karasik of the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis.

The failed December plot heightened international concern over Yemen's instability and its global repercussions to such an extent that a conference of Western and Arab donors was convened in London to discuss ways to steady the impoverished country.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was among those at the London meeting who urged the government to enact reforms and combat corruption, although no new money was pledged.

Following Monday's attack, the British Foreign Office said it was advising all British nationals in Yemen to keep a low profile and remain vigilant. The US, German and French embassies all remained open for business, officials said.

The Yemeni authorities were investigating the area of Monday's blast, which was cordoned off, security sources said.

Yemen, also located near a major shipping lane, is also facing rising unrest in its south, where a separatist movement objecting to the rule of President Ali Abdullah Saleh has been increasingly clashing with security forces.

A brutal government crackdown has led to widespread arrests and deaths on both sides.

Sanaa concluded a fragile truce deal in February with northern Shi'ite rebels, who complain of discrimination by the government, bringing an end to the latest round of heavy fighting in a conflict that has raged on and off since 2004.

In a separate incident, a Yemeni opposition party said on Monday a gunman had fired on one of its leaders' car in Sanaa the previous evening, but no one was wounded.

Abd al-Wahab Mahmoud Abd al-Hamid, a senior member of Yemen's umbrella opposition group was not in his car at the time but his wife and daughter were, family members said.