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The U.K. ambassador to Yemen escaped a suicide attack on his motorcade today in the capital, Sana’a, four months after the Yemen-based branch of al-Qaeda tried to blow up a U.S. airliner.

A suicide bomber blew himself up shortly before Ambassador Tim Torlot’s motorcade passed, about 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) from the British Embassy, an Interior Ministry official at the scene of the bombing said. Three bystanders, a woman and two men, were wounded and hospitalized, said the official, who requested anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media.

The U.K. Foreign Office said a “small” explosion took place next to the ambassador’s car, according to an e-mailed statement. No embassy staff or British nationals were wounded, the Foreign Office said.

Yemen, an impoverished nation on the Arabian Peninsula, has become a base for al-Qaeda as the terrorist group comes under pressure in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The attempted assassination of the U.K. envoy marks the first attack on a foreign target since Yemen began a crackdown following the bomb plot against the U.S. airliner.

Detroit Flight

The Arabian Peninsula branch of al-Qaeda took responsibility for the failed Dec. 25 airliner attack. Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was charged with trying to blow up the Northwest Airlines flight with 278 passengers as it approached Detroit.

Yemen said on Dec. 24 it had foiled a planned al-Qaeda attack on the British Embassy that was modeled on twin suicide car bombings of the U.S. Embassy in September 2008. The explosions killed 17 people, including seven security guards and seven attackers.

The Yemeni Interior Ministry said that today’s attack bore “all the hallmarks” of al-Qaeda. The suicide bomber detonated an explosive belt, it said in a statement on its Web site.

The embassies of the U.S., U.K. and some other foreign nations closed for a few days in early January, citing the threat of a terrorist attack. The British Embassy was closed today temporarily.

John Brennan, President Barack Obama’s assistant for homeland security and counterterrorism, said on Jan. 3 that there were probably several hundred al-Qaeda members in Yemen and that the U.S. was concerned they may be training other operatives for attacks in the U.S. and elsewhere.

Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter and holder of one-fifth of global reserves, also faces a threat from al- Qaeda militants based across the border with Yemen. In August, the group attempted to assassinate a top Saudi internal security official, Prince Muhammad bin Nayef bin Abdulaziz.

Secessionist Movement

The Yemeni government faces a secessionist movement in the south and, until a cease-fire in February, was battling insurgents in the north in a conflict that drew in Saudi Arabia late last year.

Yemen is the poorest Arab country, and the government expects oil reserves that fund 70 percent of the budget to run out over the next decade.

A London aid conference in January tied further assistance for Yemen to political and economic improvements that would allow better use of foreign aid. Bloomberg

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