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Within minutes of the incident, an Austrian oil firm had also come under attack in the Yemeni capital. Oil company OMV confirmed that a French contractor died and a British employee was seriously injured when a security guard opened fire inside the firm's compound this morning. "The company has no indications that the incident was politically motivated," OMV said in a statement on its website,
The attacks come just six months after a suicide bomber targeted the British ambassador to Yemen, who escaped unharmed. The incidents highlight Western nations’ ongoing concern of Al Qaeda operations in the poorest nation on the Arabian peninsula.
The Associated Press reports that Yemeni authorities had recently increased the security presence around embassies in Sanaa after receiving information of an impending attack. Wednesday’s rocket attack took place in the morning as an armored vehicle was on its way to the embassy with five British embassy officials inside, including the deputy chief of mission.
She was unharmed, but one British official was slightly wounded, according to a statement from Britain’s Foreign Office.
"This morning's attack on staff of the British Embassy in Sanaa highlights the risks our diplomats face working for Britain's interests abroad," Foreign Secretary William Hague said in a statement, adding: "This shameful attack on British diplomats will only redouble Britain's determination to work with the Government of Yemen to help address the challenges that country faces."
A Yemeni official told the AP that three bystanders were also wounded in the attack. According to the Yemen Observer, a woman and her child were hit by the vehicle as it attempted to escape the attack. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, although the Observer reported that Al Qaeda militants are suspect.
And the attack on the British embassy vehicle is the second on British diplomats in six months. In April, a suicide bomber blew himself up as the ambassador’s convoy passed, but Ambassador Timothy Torlot was not wounded. In January, several embassies in Sanaa, including the British and United States embassies, shut down for several days because of terrorist threats. And US authorities say the suspect in the Christmas Day bomb attempt on an airliner bound for Detroit received training in Yemen.
The attack six months ago on Ambassador Torlot was claimed by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a group formed when the Yemeni and Saudi Arabian branches of Al Qaeda merged last year. The West has growing concerns about the group, which has found a haven in lawless Yemen. The Monitor reported in September that Yemen’s government has stepped up efforts to crush the organization, and the US has more than doubled its aid – mostly military assistance – to the impoverished nation in 2010, bringing it to more than $200 million.
But the AP reports that the recent attacks have cast doubt on the effectiveness of Yemen’s offensive against the group. And as the Monitor reported, critics say the US focus on military aid may not be the most effective way to fight Al Qaeda, either.
Many analysts warn against too strong an emphasis on military aid, saying it doesn't address the symptoms of extremism in the impoverished country or the causes of growing antigovernment Islamist ideology. They argue that the international community should concentrate more on development to tackle Yemen's deep-seated poverty.
In Yemen’s countryside, where tribal sheikhs wield more power than the central government, civilians have grown increasing disgruntled with what is widely viewed as the corrupt and inefficient leadership of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Analysts worry that not only do these areas provide AQAP with a haven in which the organization can plot attacks against the West, they also offer fertile ground for recruiting new members.