British official in Yemen escapes attack

Ambassador targeted in strike by suicide bomber

A NARROW ESCAPE Timothy Torlot was unhurt in the attack, which wounded three bystanders yesterday morning in a poor district in the capital. A NARROW ESCAPE
Timothy Torlot was unhurt in the attack, which wounded three bystanders yesterday morning in a poor district in the capital.
By Ahmed al-Haj
Associated Press / April 27, 2010

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SANA, Yemen — The British ambassador in Yemen narrowly escaped a suicide attack yesterday, when a young man in a school uniform detonated his explosives belt near the diplomat’s armored car in a poor neighborhood of the capital, officials said.

The attack was the first such suicide bombing in Sana in a year, and it cast doubt on the effectiveness of the Yemeni government’s US-backed campaign against Al Qaeda militants, who have found a haven in parts of the mountainous, impoverished nation where the central government’s control is weak.

Washington has stepped up counterterrorism aid to Sana over the past year, warning that Al Qaeda’s offshoot in Yemen has become a global threat, particularly after it claimed responsibility for the failed Christmas Day attempt to bomb an American jet liner heading for Detroit.

A British Embassy spokeswoman said the ambassador, Timothy Torlot, was unhurt in the attack yesterday morning, which wounded three bystanders.

The ambassador’s vehicle was passing through the impoverished Sana district of Noqm when the explosion went off nearby, the Interior Ministry said in a statement.

The ministry identified the bomber as a 22-year old high school student from the southern town of Taiz.

Witnesses said the attacker was a young man who was wearing a school uniform, apparently as a disguise. Yemeni officials said that the attacker was believed to have been wearing an explosives belt, adding that the Noqm district is popular with militants.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

There was no claim of responsibility for the attack, but it bore the hallmarks of Al Qaeda.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband condemned the attack, saying it strengthens British resolve to work closely with Yemen “to tackle international terrorism.’’

“Thankfully Tim and all his staff are unhurt,’’ Miliband said in a statement. “I am grateful for their professionalism and for the role of the Yemeni security authorities who acted quickly and calmly to deal with the situation.’’

In March 2009, a similar attack was carried out against a convoy carrying South Korean officials in Yemen, though the blast by a man wearing an explosives belt did not injure bystanders. The officials had been sent to Yemen to investigate a bombing earlier in the week that killed four Korean tourists at a historical site outside the capital.

The Foreign Office in London said the British Embassy in Sana has been closed to the public and warned all British nationals in Yemen to “keep a low profile and remain vigilant.’’

Security was visibly tightened around the US and British embassies after the attack. The area of the explosion was sealed off as Yemeni and British officials inspected the scene of the attack.

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, an offshoot of Osama bin Laden’s terror network, was formed more than a year ago when Yemen and Saudi militant groups merged. Militants are believed to have built up strongholds in remote parts of the country, allying with tribes that resent the Sana government of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

The group’s fighters attacked the US Embassy in Sana twice in 2008, and earlier this year a number of Western embassies, including the US and British, shut down for days in response to threats of attack.

The suspect in the failed Christmas Day plane bombing plot has said he received training from Al Qaeda militants in Yemen, according to US investigators. In February, the offshoot’s military commander Qasim al-Raimi warned of further attacks against Americans.