The unknown terrorist group Islamic Jihad has claimed responsibility for the coordinated terrorist attack yesterday against the U.S. Embassy in Yemen, which left 16 dead and counts as the worst direct assault against a U.S. Embassy in a decade.
The attack occurred at 9:15 a.m., Yemeni time, in the capital city of San'a, as a suicide car bomb exploded at the U.S. Embassy's checkpoint. Militants dressed as soldiers then attacked armed with machine guns and rocket propelled grenades. The fighting lasted 10 minutes according to press reports, leaving 16 dead, including six militants. No American embassy employees or diplomats were harmed in the attack.
The group, Islamic Jihad, has no affiliation with the Palestinian organization of the same name, although U.S. officials say the organization may be an al Qaeda affiliate.
"The attack bears all the hallmarks of an al Qaeda attack where you have multiple vehicle borne devices along with personnel on foot seemingly in an attempt to try to breach the perimeter and get inside," said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack at a press conference yesterday.
Yemen is the ancestral homeland of al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden. The country's lawless regions, much like Pakistan today, have doubled as al Qaeda terrorist training camps throughout the late 1990s.
"There's an ongoing issue with al-Qaida and ... violent extremists and terrorism in Yemen," McCormack noted.
Wednesday's operation was the deadliest by Islamic militants on a U.S. target in Yemen since the 2000 attack by Al Qaeda on the destroyer Cole in the port of Aden. It was also one of the biggest and most elaborately organized attacks in the country this year, showing the continued resilience of Al Qaeda in the ancestral home of Osama bin Laden even as the U.S.-allied government regularly arrests and kills militants.
Another indicator of Yemen's centrality in the U.S. war on terrorism is that a sizable minority of the detainees—at least 108 of 270—imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, are Yemenis.
Yemen is considered a strong ally in Washington's war on terrorism, however, the Associated Press reports that U.S. officials are frustrated with Yemen's inability to hold onto captured jihadist militants. Ten of the 17 militants arrested for the USS Cole attack escaped their detention in 2003. A year later, one of the major suspects, Jamal al-Badawi, escaped prison. He was recaptured last fall under intense pressure from the U.S. government.
Today, the State Department confirmed that one U.S. citizen died in the attack: Susan Elbaneh, an 18-year-old woman from Lackawanna, New York, who was waiting outside the embassy to complete paperwork with her husband.