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Archive for Thursday, September 18, 2008

US Embassy attack kills 16

September 18, 2008

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— On a quiet Ramadan morning, a few people lined up outside the U.S. Embassy to wait for visas while most residents slept late in the Yemeni capital to cut short the Muslim holy month's daytime fast. Suddenly, chaos erupted.

Militants linked to al-Qaida, some dressed in military uniforms, pulled up at a checkpoint and started blasting guards with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades. Amid the fight, a vehicle packed with explosives sped toward the embassy's main gates, erupting into a ball of fire when it hit a concrete barrier outside the complex.

By the time Wednesday's battle ended, six attackers and six Yemeni guards lay dead, along with four civilians, one of them a newlywed from New York.

Susan Elbaneh, 18, a U.S. citizen from Lackawanna, N.Y., who was recently wed in Yemen in an arranged marriage, was killed along with her Yemeni husband as they stood outside the embassy, family members said. They were apparently there to do paperwork for the husband's move to the U.S., said Elbaneh's brother, Ahmed. She had been in Yemen for a month for the Aug. 25 marriage.

Elbaneh's family was gathering at her father Ali's house following news of the attack.

Two FBI agents who arrived to speak with family members at the home would not comment beyond saying they were there to talk to the family.

Relatives acknowledged, however, that Susan Elbaneh is related to Jaber Elbaneh, who is in custody in Yemen and faces U.S. charges of providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization. But they stressed that had nothing to do with Susan, saying she was an innocent victim of Wednesday's attack.

Elbaneh, a high school senior, is one of eight children in the family, which her brother described as a "huge and close-knit." Ahmed Elbaneh said she planned to return to New York with her new husband, finish school and become a nurse.

The attack, which the U.S. linked to al-Qaida, left American officials once again questioning the policies of a Yemeni government that appears perilously light-handed when dealing with the al-Qaida threat in this land, the ancestral home of Osama Bin Laden.

In Washington, President Bush called the attack "a reminder that we are at war with extremists who will murder innocent people to achieve their ideological objectives."

But the attack also highlighted American officials' frustration at the ineffective anti-terrorism policy of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, whose government has been accused of providing a "revolving door" in which militants are arrested and then freed with a mere promise to behave.

Yemen has let some convicted militants go after promising to refrain from violence.

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