Masked gunmen shot and killed Qassem Aqlan, a Yemeni national attached to the security detail at the U.S. embassy in Sanaa, on his way to work on Thursday. This attack is the latest in a wave of assassinations in the Arab state where Washington is battling al Qaeda militants.
Gunmen on a motorcycle shot at the vehicle Aqlan was in. He died at the scene, Interior Ministry officials said.
The killing of Aqlan shows the hallmarks of al Qaeda, officials said. “Motorcycle attacks are currently al Qaeda’s main tactic,” a senior Interior Ministry official said, adding that such attacks “are easier for terrorists to coordinate and plan for.”
There have been a number of assassination attempts, some of them successful, on security officials and politicians since Yemen’s army drove Islamist fighters out of several southern towns earlier this year.
The shooting took place along Siteen, a main street in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa, which is generally considered one of the safest, officials said. The Yemeni president’s house is on the same road.
Aqlan had worked at the embassy for nearly two decades, Interior Ministry officials said.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has been blamed for numerous attacks in Yemen. The Yemen-based AQAP and other militant groups strengthened their grip on parts of the country during an uprising that ousted veteran President Ali Abdullah Saleh in February.
The US State Department confirmed the killing.
“We are deeply saddened by this tragic incident involving a Yemeni employee of our embassy in Sanaa, and we are working with Yemeni authorities,” a senior State Department official told reporters.
Hundreds of demonstrators gathered in front of the US embassy in Sanaa on September 13th to protest the video “Innocence of Muslims,” which maligns the Prophet Mohammed. The demonstration turned violent, and some managed to break into the mission’s compound, before Yemeni security forces intervened. Four protesters were killed and 34 others wounded.
Yemen’s President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi apologized to his US counterpart Barack Obama and the American people for the acts of a “mob” and ordered a probe.
The unrest came two days after four Americans, including the ambassador, were killed when a mob attacked the US consulate in Libya’s second city Benghazi, and protesters in Cairo attacked the US mission there and tore down the Stars and Stripes, replacing it with a black Islamic flag.
While some Interior Ministry officials at first said Aqlan was overseeing the investigation into last month’s attack on the embassy, others later said he was not.
Aqlan’s death “sends a message that if you’re working with the Americans you’ll be targeted no matter who you are,” the official said.