Al Qaeda in Yemen has claimed responsibility for an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Sana’a, Yemen’s capital city, using automatic weapons, rocket-propelled grenades and at least one suicide car bomb.
The claim, which was reportedly posted to a Web site commonly used by Islamic militants in November 2008, took responsibility for the September 17, 2008, suicide car-bomb attack that killed 13 Yemeni police and civilians, as well as at least six of the attackers.
The claim of responsibilty reportedly included details of the attack and further threats on the Arabian Peninsula. According to the posting, Lutf Muhammad Abu Abdul-Rahman and six of his students carried out the attack in response to a call by Al Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. The claim also threatened further attacks on “all embassies,” and said that Al Qaeda’s enemies appear as though they “will not leave the Arabian Peninsula, but they will be killed in it.”
A group calling itself Islamic Jihad in Yemen also claimed responsibility immediately following the attack. The group released a statement threatening to attack other embassies in Yemen, including Britain, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.
The day before the attack, Islamic Jihad in Yemen reportedly issued a statement threatening to launch an attack unless the Yemeni government released several members from jail.
Despite Islamic Jihad in Yemen’s claim of responsibility, American and Yemeni authorities suspected that Al Qaeda was behind the attack. According to State Department spokesman Sean McCormack, the explosions “bear all the hallmarks of an Al Qaeda attack.”
On the day of the attack, as many as five explosions struck the embassy, according to Yemeni authorities. Six gunmen disguised as security forces – including one wearing a suicide vest – opened fire on embassy guards with rockets, grenades and small arms. A car packed with explosives was detonated near the security gate of the Embassy, and militants used a second car to attempt to breach the Embassy walls. The attack was meant to breach the compound walls, but the men failed to gain entry into the embassy, according to American authorities.
One of the casualties was Susan Elbaneh, 18, a senior in high school at Lackawanna High School in New York, who was reportedly killed with her Yemeni husband while standing outside the embassy during the attack.
Susan’s cousin, Jaber Elbaneh, is on the FBI's most-wanted-terrorists list and has been indicted by a federal grand jury in New York for allegedly being the seventh member of the Lackawanna Six, a group of American men that attended an Al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan in 2001. Jaber Elbaneh is currently in Yemeni custody, and authorities are investigating whether he and other high-level Al Qaeda members are connected to this attack. There is no indication that Susan and Jaber were in contact with each other.
At least 30 suspected Al Qaeda-linked militants have reportedly been arrested in connection with the attack.
American interests in Yemen have previously been the focus of several attacks. In March 2008, Al Qaeda in Yemen claimed responsibility for a failed attack that accidentally hit a nearby school instead, killing a security guard, a schoolgirl and wounding 19 others.
A gunman was arrested in 2006 after he opened fire outside the embassy and reportedly claimed he wanted to kill Americans. In 2002, a Yemeni man threw a grenade into the embassy grounds in an alleged effort to retaliate against what he called American bias toward Israel.
Al Qaeda also claimed responsibility for the 2000 USS Cole bombing in Yemen that killed 17 American soldiers.