The State Department says the attack on the U.S. embassy in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, was apparently an attempt by terrorists to breach the walls of the heavily-guarded facility. Officials say the attack bore all the hallmarks of an al-Qaida operation, though they have not concluded who is to blame. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.
State Department officials are crediting Yemeni guards, and stepped-up embassy security measures, for thwarting what was apparently an attempt by terrorists to blast a hole through the walls of the diplomatic compound and kill those inside.
According to preliminary information from Sanaa, two vehicle-bombs exploded outside the main entrance of the U.S. compound, which was also attacked by gunmen on foot who may have hoped to enter the facility through a breach in the walls caused by the second blast.
But the concrete perimeter withstood the explosions and Yemeni soldiers engaged the attackers, with casualties on both sides.
Reports from the scene said at least 16 people were killed in the incident, including several attackers, Yemeni troops and civilian passers-by.
The State Department offered no casualty figures, but said the dead included one Yemeni security guard who worked for the embassy.
State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice telephoned Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh to express regret for the loss of life among the security personnel and civilians, and appreciation for current and future anti-terrorism cooperation with Yemen.
President Bush, at a White House meeting with former U.S. Iraq Commander General David Petraeus, said the attack is a reminder that the United States remains at war with extremists who will kill innocents to achieve their objectives:
"One objective of these extremists is to kill, to try to cause the United States to lose our nerve, and to withdraw from regions of the world," President Bush said. "And our message is that we want to help governments survive the extremists. We want people to live normal lives. We want mothers to be able to raise their sons and daughters in a peaceful environment so they can realize the hopes and dreams of a better world."
Yemen has long been a focus of U.S. security concern. The Navy ship USS Cole was bombed in 2000 by al-Qaida members in a speedboat in the Yemeni port of Aden, killing 17 U.S. sailors.
Non-essential U.S. embassy personnel and dependents were evacuated from Yemen after a mortar attack on diplomatic housing in April, and were allowed to return only last month.
State Department Spokesman McCormack said the Yemeni government has made strides in boosting security, but could do more.
While a group calling itself Islamic Jihad in Yemen has claimed responsibility for the attack, McCormack said the United States has suspicions that al-Qaida or a local affiliate may be to blame.
"I think it is safe to say, after talking to the security personnel, that the attack bears all the hallmarks of an al-Qaida attack - where you have multiple vehicle-borne devices, along with personnel on foot, seemingly in an attempt to try to breach the perimeter and actually get inside, get inside the perimeter and try inflict further damage and loss of life," he said.
McCormack said all American staffers are safe and accounted for at the embassy, which has closed temporarily.
He said an interagency team of U.S. experts has been sent to Yemen to join in an investigation of the attack, and that it is premature to discuss a possible new security steps.