Attackers armed with automatic weapons, rocket-propelled grenades and at least one suicide car bomb assaulted the U.S. Embassy in the Yemeni capital Sana on Wednesday. Sixteen people were killed, including six assailants, officials said.
No Americans were hurt in the deadly attempt to breach the compound walls, which the U.S. said bore "all the hallmarks of an al-Qaida attack."
Multiple explosions rang out outside the heavily-guarded facility, and gunfire raged for at least 10 minutes at the concrete checkpoints that ring the compound. The dead included six attackers, six Yemeni guards and four civilians, the state news agency SABA reported. Security officials said people lined up for visas were among those killed or wounded.
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It was the deadliest attack on a compound that has been targeted four times in recent years by bombings, mortars and shootings. Yemen, the ancestral homeland of Osama bin Laden, has struggled to put down al-Qaida-linked Islamic militants, often to the frustration of U.S. counterterrorism officials.
Just last month, the State Department allowed the return of non-essential personnel and family members who had been ordered to leave after a volley of mortars targeted the embassy. The attack instead hit a girls high school next door, killing a Yemeni security guard and wounding more than a dozen girls.
In the 9:15 am attack, gunmen in a vehicle attacked a checkpoint outside the embassy with RPGs and automatic weapons, Yemeni security officials said. During the assault, suicide bombers in a vehicle made it through the checkpoint and hit a second, inner ring of concrete blocks, and detonated, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the press.
"This attack is a reminder that we are at war with extremists who will murder innocent people to achieve their ideological objectives," President Bush said.
SABA, citing an unidentified Interior Ministry official, reported that two suicide car bombs detonated and made no mention of a gunbattle. There was no immediate explanation for the differing accounts. A senior U.S. official in Washington said at least five detonations were heard — but embassy officials spoke of "secondary explosions," suggesting some could have been RPG blasts.
The Washington official, speaking on condition of anonymity to describe an internal Bush administration briefing, said some of the attackers were dressed as Yemeni troops, and that Yemeni emergency personnel who first rushed to the scene were hit by heavy sniper fire from gunmen who had stationed themselves across the street from the embassy.
Yemeni security officials said a little-known group called Islamic Jihad, unrelated to the Palestinian group of the same name, claimed responsiblity for the attack. But Yemeni authorities have blamed the group in past attacks that have later been claimed by al-Qaida in postings on the Internet.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the embassy's security upgrades, combined with the response of security officials, stopped the attackers.
McCormack said the assault had "all the hallmarks of an al-Qaida attack."