A suspected U.S. drone killed four alleged al-Qaida members Tuesday in Yemen, as the U.S. and British embassies evacuated staff amid reports of a threatened attack by the terrorist group.
As Yemen bolstered security by sending tanks and troops into the streets of Sanaa, the capital of the impoverished country, militants shot down an army helicopter, killing all eight people aboard, the government said.
Yemeni authorities have suggested that there were al-Qaida threats in recent days to multiple potential targets in the country, which has been thrust back into the forefront of the international fight against the terrorist network. Among those sites were foreign installations and government offices in the capital of Sanaa as well as to the strategic Bab al-Mandeb straits at the entrance to the Red Sea in the southern Arabian Peninsula.
The State Department ordered nonessential personnel at the U.S. Embassy to leave the country. The department said in a travel warning that it had ordered the departure of non-emergency U.S. government personnel “due to the continued potential for terrorist attacks,” adding that U.S. citizens should leave immediately because of an “extremely high” security threat level.
Britain’s Foreign Office also said it has evacuated all staff from its embassy due to increased security concerns. The Foreign Office said the staff were “temporarily withdrawn to the U.K.” on Tuesday.
Yemen’s government criticized the evacuations in a statement from its embassy in Washington, saying the diplomatic withdrawal “serves the interests of the extremists and undermines the exceptional cooperation” between Yemen and the international community in the fight against terrorism. It insisted that its government has taken all precautions to ensure the security of foreign missions in Sanaa.
The U.S. has temporarily shut down 19 diplomatic posts in the Middle East and Africa after the interception of a secret message between al-Qaida chief Ayman al-Zawahri and Nasser al-Wahishi, the leader of the Yemen-based al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, about plans for a major terror attack, according to a U.S. intelligence official and a Mideast diplomat. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
Jan Psaki, spokeswoman for the State Department, said in a separate statement early Tuesday that the department issued the order for Yemen because of concern about a “threat stream indicating the potential for terrorist attacks against U.S. persons or facilities overseas, especially emanating from the Arabian Peninsula.”
Meanwhile, there has been a spike in apparent U.S. drone strikes against al-Qaida leaders. The attack Tuesday was the fourth in two weeks.
Yemeni officials say the drone fired a missile at a car carrying four men in the al-Arqeen district of Marib province, setting it on fire and killing them. One of the dead was believed to be Saleh Jouti, a senior al-Qaida member.
In Sanaa, residents awoke to the sound of an aircraft overhead. Officials said it was American, and photos posted on Instagram appeared to show a P-3 Orion, a manned surveillance aircraft.