British embassy staffer among wounded in Yemen rocket attack

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A British embassy staffer was among at least three people wounded in a rocket attack on a diplomatic car in Sanaa on Wednesday, just months after a bomber targeted Britain's ambassador here.

Yemeni police said the car was attacked by a rocket-propelled grenade while travelling in a Sanaa street, some three kilometres (two miles) from the British embassy.

Police, who said the blast injured three people, added that the vehicle, a Toyota Landcruiser, suffered damage including a broken windshield. They did not say if the car took a direct hit.

Britain's foreign ministry said a staff member suffered minor injuries and two bystanders were injured.

"A British embassy vehicle was attacked at approximately 0815 local time," the 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.

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."

Police deployed heavily around the British embassy and blocked roads leading to it, an AFP correspondent said.

The attack took place on Khawlan Street, about three kilometres (two miles) from the British mission, which is regularly used by embassy personnel.

The vehicle was immediately removed from the scene.

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

Highlighting the growing dangers in the Arabian peninsula's poorest country, security officials said a Frenchman working for Austrian energy group OMV in Yemen was shot dead at a company compound near Sanaa on Wednesday.

"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.

The soldier, who was guarding the group's Yemen headquarters in Haddah on the outskirts of Sanaa, was disarmed and arrested, other officials said, adding that he was being interrogated.

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, whose body was torn to pieces, 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."

And in October 2000, then-foreign secretary Robin Cook said an attacker threw a bomb over the wall of the British embassy, an attack that did not result in casualties.

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.

"The underpinning issue (of help to Yemen) is the protection of the stability of the state overall and let's be honest: there are massive dangers to the country, the region and the wider world if ever Yemen becomes failed state," Alan Duncan, Britain's international development minister, said.

Yemen, Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden's ancestral homeland, faces a growing threat from AQAP.

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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