British embassy car attacked, Frenchman shot dead in Yemen

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A British embassy car came under rocket attack in Yemen Wednesday while a Frenchman working for an Austrian oil firm was shot dead, highlighting the growing dangers in the Arabian peninsula's poorest nation.

Britain's foreign ministry said a British embassy staffer suffered minor injuries when the car he was travelling in with four colleagues in a Sanaa street was targeted by what police said was a rocket-propelled grenade.

Two bystanders were also injured in the blast, which caused damage to the vehicle, including a broken windshield.

"A British embassy vehicle was attacked at approximately 0815 local time," the British Foreign Office said in a statement.

"The vehicle was on its way to the British embassy, with five embassy staff on board. One member of staff suffered minor injuries and is undergoing treatment, all others were unhurt," it added.

"We are informing their families at the moment. We are aware of at least two bystanders injured during the attack, and are seeking further detail."

A diplomatic source said the vehicle was carrying the deputy head of mission at the British embassy. The Foreign Office would not confirm the identities of those in the car.

Meanwhile, a Frenchman working for Austrian energy group OMV in Yemen was shot dead and a British colleague hospitalised by a soldier guarding the firm's Sanaa compound Wednesday, OMV and security officials said.

"The armed guard opened fire on the director, crying Allah Akbar (God is greatest)," one of the officials said, without specifying whether the attack was motivated by personal or other reasons.

OMV confirmed the death and said a British national, described as an expert who worked at the company's branch office, was also wounded in the attack.

The Austrian firm said it saw "no political background for the action taken by the Yemeni security guard."

The soldier, who was guarding the company's Yemen headquarters in Haddah on the outskirts of Sanaa, was disarmed and arrested, security officials said.

Following Wednesday's rocket attack, the travel advice section of the British embassy's website warned against "all but essential travel" to Yemen "due to the threat of terrorism, kidnapping and tribal violence."

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the blast was "a reminder that we have some way to go" in efforts to improve security in Yemen, which faces a growing threat from Al-Qaeda.

"All our diplomats there are remaining at home or in the embassy," he told BBC radio. "It is a difficult and dangerous place to work."

On April 26, a suicide bomber hurled himself at the British ambassador's two-car convoy in a Sanaa street as it neared the British embassy compound.

The suicide bomber wounded three bystanders and damaged a police escort car as he threw himself at the convoy and detonated his explosive belt. Ambassador Timothy Torlot escaped unharmed.

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the group's local branch, later claimed the attack, which saw the embassy closed for two weeks.

Britain's embassy in Sanaa also closed for three days in January due to the threat of an attack by Al-Qaeda, the mission said.

In December 2009, the Yemeni defence ministry's news website said the country's authorities had dismantled an Al-Qaeda cell that "was aimed at infiltrating and blowing up targets, including the British embassy."

Britain, along with Yemen and Saudi Arabia, co-chaired a September 24 meeting in New York City of the "Friends of Yemen" international support group.

At the meeting, Britain warned of "massive dangers" to world security should Yemen become a failed state.

Sanaa has intensified its operations against AQAP amid mounting pressure from Washington after the militant group claimed responsibility for a botched attack on US-bound airliner on Christmas Day last year.

© 2010 AFP

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