US Embassy in Yemen Attacked (updated)

Brett McCrae
Initial press reports indicate the United States Embassy attack in Sanaaa, Yemen was led by 6 individuals -- one using a suicide belt while other used Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPGs). There were also indications that snipers from adjoining buildings were firing on first responders to the scene. Additional reports that indicate two car bombs were also detonated at the scene.

The perpetrators of the attack were dressed in (presumably Yemeni) army uniforms and were driving an army vehicle. The vehicle was waved through the initial check point and was allowed to approach the main gate of the US Embassy compound. That is where the attackers exited their vehicle and fired their RPG's and evidently detonated their explosives. Other
reports indicate a second vehicle (the car bomb) approached the gate and detonated. The result at this time: 16 dead -- 6 Yemeni soldiers, 4 civilians, and 6 attackers.

This attack was likely the work of al Qaida. If initial reports are correct, the tactic used to attack the Embassy in Sanaa is a classic example of an al Qaida assault. The technique is known as "stripping" and was made famous by the attack on the Egyptian Embassy in Islamabad by the Egyptian Islamic Jihad (headed by Ayman Zawahiri) in 1995. The tactic involves using an initial vehicle to neutralize the security at the gate while the bomb vehicle proceeds directly behind the initial vehicle to attack the target. This was precisely the same technique used in the East Africa Bombings in August 1998.

This is not the first attempt to attack the US Embassy in Sanaa this year. In March 2008, it fell under mortar attack. The mortars missed their mark and ended up hitting an all girl's school that was adjacent to the Embassy -- killing roughly three and injuring 15.

These attacks on the US Embassy in Yemen this year also mark a larger regional pattern of attacks on US diplomatic facilities. In December 2004, al Qaida terrorists assaulted the US Consulate compound in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Again, terrorists are able to approach the main gate to the compound exit the vehicle they use and by foot storm the compound. Five hostages were taken (all foreign employees of the embassy) and were killed. Roughly one hour, later Saudi Security forces retake the Embassy.

In September 2006, four al Qaida terrorists attacked the US Embassy in Damascus, Syria. They were armed with automatic weapons and grenades and also attempted to storm the US Embassy compound. Three of the attackers were killed and a fourth was wounded. Several foreign nationals were wounded in the assault with one Syrian guard killed. Syrian officials were also involved in disarming a rudimentary car bomb (consisting of pipe bombs and gas canisters) that had failed to detonate.

The attacks on these facilities are telling. Al Qaida is still an obvious threat. However, since the onset of Operations Enduring Freedom, the organization's ability to orchestrate catastrophic attacks on US soil and cause thousands of US deaths have been absent. It seems the organization has been relegated to these types of attack against US diplomatic outposts in the region most sympathetic to Bin Laden.

Update:
 
This article highlights the hook and jab of al Qaida based Islamic militancy on the Arabian Peninsula. It outlines the fact that a recent crackdown by the Saudi Government is pushing al Qaida elements into Yemen. The article states:

In March [2008], a Saudi militant fundraiser said al-Qaeda had been defeated in Saudi Arabia and he called on his remaining associates to flee to Yemen to escape capture or assassination by the Saudi authorities. The current migration of Saudi jihadis to Yemen coincides with the emergence of a transnational structure calling itself al-Qaeda in the South of the Arabian Peninsula. Yemen's mountainous terrain and the weak presence of state structures outside Sanaa have long fostered close ties between jihadis in these neighbouring states.

This movement of extremists from Saudi Arabia to Yemen, a country with a sketchy ability to manage its own internal security, and President Salih's choice of dialogue and "reindoctrination" rather than direct confrontation with Islamic militants in Yemen provides for a permissive environment. A prime illustration of this permissiveness was the Yemeni government's handling of Jamal al Badawi, an individual deeply involved in al Qaida's attack on the USS Cole in October 2000.  Badawi's reduction in sentence, his on-again/off-again incarceration, and the refusal of Yemeni authorities to turn him over for prosecution for the USS Cole attack illustrates Salih's unwillingness to anger extremists.

If al Qaida is able to gain breathing space and reconstitute in Yemen it does not portend well for US interests in the region and beyond.
Initial press reports indicate the United States Embassy attack in Sanaaa, Yemen was led by 6 individuals -- one using a suicide belt while other used Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPGs). There were also indications that snipers from adjoining buildings were firing on first responders to the scene. Additional reports that indicate two car bombs were also detonated at the scene.

The perpetrators of the attack were dressed in (presumably Yemeni) army uniforms and were driving an army vehicle. The vehicle was waved through the initial check point and was allowed to approach the main gate of the US Embassy compound. That is where the attackers exited their vehicle and fired their RPG's and evidently detonated their explosives. Other
reports indicate a second vehicle (the car bomb) approached the gate and detonated. The result at this time: 16 dead -- 6 Yemeni soldiers, 4 civilians, and 6 attackers.

This attack was likely the work of al Qaida. If initial reports are correct, the tactic used to attack the Embassy in Sanaa is a classic example of an al Qaida assault. The technique is known as "stripping" and was made famous by the attack on the Egyptian Embassy in Islamabad by the Egyptian Islamic Jihad (headed by Ayman Zawahiri) in 1995. The tactic involves using an initial vehicle to neutralize the security at the gate while the bomb vehicle proceeds directly behind the initial vehicle to attack the target. This was precisely the same technique used in the East Africa Bombings in August 1998.

This is not the first attempt to attack the US Embassy in Sanaa this year. In March 2008, it fell under mortar attack. The mortars missed their mark and ended up hitting an all girl's school that was adjacent to the Embassy -- killing roughly three and injuring 15.

These attacks on the US Embassy in Yemen this year also mark a larger regional pattern of attacks on US diplomatic facilities. In December 2004, al Qaida terrorists assaulted the US Consulate compound in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Again, terrorists are able to approach the main gate to the compound exit the vehicle they use and by foot storm the compound. Five hostages were taken (all foreign employees of the embassy) and were killed. Roughly one hour, later Saudi Security forces retake the Embassy.

In September 2006, four al Qaida terrorists attacked the US Embassy in Damascus, Syria. They were armed with automatic weapons and grenades and also attempted to storm the US Embassy compound. Three of the attackers were killed and a fourth was wounded. Several foreign nationals were wounded in the assault with one Syrian guard killed. Syrian officials were also involved in disarming a rudimentary car bomb (consisting of pipe bombs and gas canisters) that had failed to detonate.

The attacks on these facilities are telling. Al Qaida is still an obvious threat. However, since the onset of Operations Enduring Freedom, the organization's ability to orchestrate catastrophic attacks on US soil and cause thousands of US deaths have been absent. It seems the organization has been relegated to these types of attack against US diplomatic outposts in the region most sympathetic to Bin Laden.

Update:
 
This article highlights the hook and jab of al Qaida based Islamic militancy on the Arabian Peninsula. It outlines the fact that a recent crackdown by the Saudi Government is pushing al Qaida elements into Yemen. The article states:

In March [2008], a Saudi militant fundraiser said al-Qaeda had been defeated in Saudi Arabia and he called on his remaining associates to flee to Yemen to escape capture or assassination by the Saudi authorities. The current migration of Saudi jihadis to Yemen coincides with the emergence of a transnational structure calling itself al-Qaeda in the South of the Arabian Peninsula. Yemen's mountainous terrain and the weak presence of state structures outside Sanaa have long fostered close ties between jihadis in these neighbouring states.

This movement of extremists from Saudi Arabia to Yemen, a country with a sketchy ability to manage its own internal security, and President Salih's choice of dialogue and "reindoctrination" rather than direct confrontation with Islamic militants in Yemen provides for a permissive environment. A prime illustration of this permissiveness was the Yemeni government's handling of Jamal al Badawi, an individual deeply involved in al Qaida's attack on the USS Cole in October 2000.  Badawi's reduction in sentence, his on-again/off-again incarceration, and the refusal of Yemeni authorities to turn him over for prosecution for the USS Cole attack illustrates Salih's unwillingness to anger extremists.

If al Qaida is able to gain breathing space and reconstitute in Yemen it does not portend well for US interests in the region and beyond.