U.S. Embassy Attack in Yemen Stirs Travel Fears

Locations in this article:  Dubai, United Arab Emirates

US Embassy SealCross Yemen off your travel list for now. The U.S. Embassy in Yemen was brazenly attacked yesterday by militants wielding automatic weapons, grenades and at least one suicide car bomb.

Sixteen people were killed, including six of the assailants, six Yemeni guards and four civilians who were waiting in line for visas.

One American citizen was killed. The 18-year-old resident of Lackawanna, New York, and her Yemeni husband were at the embassy filling out paperwork for his move to the U.S.

The assault was notably well-coordinated, with one set of gunmen first attacking a police checkpoint on the outer security perimeter, then a second group barreling through the firefight in a car which was detonated on an inner concrete security ring. When emergency rescue personnel started arriving minutes later, they were shot at by snipers hidden across the street.

Some witnesses reported hearing several explosions, which led to speculation that there may have been an additional car bomb, but other reports said that some of the later blasts could have come from powerful rocket-propelled grenades.

Yemeni security officials said a little-known group called Islamic Jihad (unrelated to the Palestinian group with the same name) claimed responsibility, while U.S. officials said the attack bore all the hallmarks of al-Qaeda.

Though it remains unclear who the perpetrators were, the big fear is that Yemen seems to have become a breeding ground for Islamic militants: 108 of the 270 detainees held at Guantanamo Bay are Yemeni, as were many of those involved in the attack on the USS Cole in 2000.

Yemeni figureWhy Yemen? The nation is considered a U.S. ally in the war on terrorism, and the Yemeni government pledged to help target Islamic terrorists after the Cole attack and post-9/11. But myriad elements have made this little more than an empty promise, including a flimsy central government, a freewheeling weapons market, an often-disenfranchised tribal system, and a mountainous terrain that provides ideal grounds for training camps.

The attack is the fourth the embassy has sustained since 2003. In March, non-essential embassy personnel were ordered to leave following a mortar attack which damaged a school next door and killed one guard.

Our bet for a better Middle Eastern travel experience? Oman.

It’s a great “sleeper” destination, and while you can fly directly into Muscat International Airport, a great option is to fly to Dubai first, and then drive through the Emirates into Oman and the Musandam peninsula. Find out more about Oman in Peter’s MSNBC column.

By Karen Elowitt and Sarika Chawla for PeterGreenberg.com.

Related Links: The Independent (UK), Associated Press, MSNBC, BBC, Yemen Times

Find out why the Toughest Job in the Middle East Is Minister of Tourism.

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