Yemen arrests 7 suspects in connection with attack on British diplomat’s convoy

By Ahmed Al-haj, AP
Thursday, October 7, 2010

Yemen arrests 7 suspects in attack on UK diplomat

SAN’A, Yemen — Yemeni authorities announced on Thursday the arrest of seven suspects in the attack on the motorcade of the British embassy’s No. 2 — all from an area in the capital that has become synonymous with militancy.

The neighborhood of Nuqum in Yemen’s capital of San’a not only plays host to the U.S. and British embassies but contains a sprawling slum on the eastern half of the city which security officials say is full of Islamist extremists with Al-Qaida connections.

Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, an offshoot of Osama bin Laden’s terror network, was formed more than a year ago when Yemen and Saudi militant groups merged. Al-Qaida fighters are believed to have built up strongholds in remote parts of the country, allying with powerful tribes that resent the government of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

They are also believed to have a presence in the capital city itself and several attacks in recent years have cast doubt on the government’s ability to protect its own backyard.

On Wednesday, militants fired a rocket at an embassy vehicle containing four officials and the deputy chief of mission as it was passing through Nuqum. One staffer and three bystanders were wounded.

In April, a suicide bomber attacked the car of the British ambassador as it was passing through the same neighborhood.

Attacks against the U.S. embassy in 2008, part of the same district, also originated from this neighborhood, which security officials say has become a major militant haven because of the sparse security presence.

Police reports estimate that at least 500 people from this impoverished slum housing hundreds of thousands of residents left to join the wars in Iraq and Somalia between 2002 and 2005.

Yemen’s own militant problem began in recent years when many of these fighters returned home from the battlefields of Iraq and turned their attention to their own government.

A security official explained that police forces don’t regularly patrol the slum for fear of getting killed and only occasionally conduct massive sweeps.

He added that wanted militants move freely through the neighborhood disguised as women in all encompassing cloaks. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of his personal safety.

Much of the area consists of shanty towns that have mushroomed in the shadow of the Nuqum mountain, creating a densely populated neighborhood of twisting, unpaved alleys winding between ramshackle buildings.

Only a few main roads cut through the area and one of these is the main route from the embassies to downtown San’a.

With embassies increasingly turning into impregnable fortresses, militants have shifted their focus to the armored SUVs in diplomatic motorcades, security officials say. Both recent attacks on British convoys, however, only inflicted light damage on the heavily protected vehicles.

Yemen is the poorest country in the Arab world, with a rising population and falling water and food supplies, as well as dwindling oil resources.

In addition to the al-Qaida menace, the government is battling rebellious Shiite tribes in the north and a separatist movement in the south.

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