Six trucks of explosives ‘disappear’ in Yemen
Fears of a terrorist strike against Western embassies in Yemen have grown amid claims a convoy of lorries laden with explosives had been smuggled into the country’s capital city, Sana’a.
In an apparently botched surveillance operation, militants driving six trucks filled with weapons and ordnance succeeded in giving security forces the slip as they entered the city, according to local media.
The revelations came as western diplomatic missions in Sana’a went into lockdown following threats from al-Qaeda’s Yemeni affiliate, which has taken responsibility for a failed attempt to blow up an airliner over Detroit on Christmas Day.
Both the British and American embassies, considered the most high-profile targets in the city, remained closed for a second day. France and the Czech Republic also shut their embassies, while Spain, Germany and Japan announced restrictions on public access to their missions.
The identity of those who smuggled the weapons contingent into Sana’a has not been disclosed, and it is unclear if its disappearance is linked to al-Qaeda’s increasingly powerful Yemeni branch, al-Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula (AQAP)
Although AQAP released a statement on Sunday urging its followers to kill all Western diplomats on the Arab Peninsula, western officials have declined to divulge whether or not threats of a specific nature have been made.
Diplomats dismissed speculation that the vanishing convoy could presage an imminent attack on Western interests in the city.
“These reports have nothing to do with the reason embassies were shut,” one said.
John Brennan, President Barack Obama’s counter-terrorism adviser, has spoken of “indications” that al-Qaeda was planning an attack on a Western target in Sana’a, possibly the US embassy, which was twice attacked in 2008, killing 19.
It is not the first time that lorries carrying arms have disappeared in Yemen, and sources suggested that the weapons may well have been bound for tribal rebels in the North. The insurgents, who are Shia, are regarded as apostates by al-Qaeda, although some observers say there may be a limited alliance of convenience between the two.
But the disappearance of so large a shipment of explosives will only enhance the febrile atmosphere in Sana’a and raise fresh concerns about Yemen’s competence in dealing with the al-Qaeda threat.
A combination of corruption, instability, poverty and lawlessness has helped turn Yemen into fertile breeding ground for al-Qaeda. Amid warnings that the country could soon emerge as a “new Afghanistan”, Gordon Brown this weekend gave warning that Yemen was becoming a “failing state.”
Keen to demonstrate its commitment to fighting terror, the Yemeni government said its forces had killed two suspected al-Qaeda members in an operation in the mountainous Arhab region, 25 miles north of the capital.
The raid happened close to the scene of government air strikes on Dec 17 that killed three members of an AQAP cell who were allegedly plotting to blow up the British embassy in Sana’a.
The main target of Monday’s attack, identified as Mohammed Ahmed al-Hanaq, managed to escape.
Observers in Sana’a described Mr Hanaq as a tribal chief who has only loose connections to al-Qaeda.
AQAP has managed to establish a foothold in several parts of Yemen largely be paying tribute to local tribes who complain they have been marginalised and impoverished by the Yemeni government.