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British Foreign Office: Yemen Attack 'Unwarranted'

Yemeni policemen attend the scene where an attack took place on a convoy carrying a senior British diplomat in San'a, Yemen, 6 Oct 2010

British officials are denouncing an attack on a British embassy car carrying a senior British diplomat in Yemen's capital, Sana'a.

"We are obviously very distressed on this attack on British embassy staff," admitted Alistair Burt, a British Foreign Office Minister responsible for the Middle East and the Gulf, "but it emphasizes the danger of the work that some of our diplomats do when they are caught up in situations such as this. But it is a despicable and entirely unwarranted attack."

The Foreign Office says five employees of the British embassy were traveling in the convoy that was hit by a rocket. One staff member was injured along with another three civilians.

No one has taken responsibility for the attack, but Burt says it is likely to be the same group that carried out a suicide attack against the British ambassador in Yemen six months ago. The Yemen wing of al-Qaida claimed responsibility for that attack.

"It makes us very conscious of security and issues such as that. But our work and the work of the embassy will go on," added Burt when asked if the latest attack would alter Britain's work in Yemen.

Yemen specialist Rodney Wilson of Britain's Durham University says Britain has long been a target for terror attacks in Yemen. He says Wednesday's attack is only one incident in an ongoing story.

"Britain is a target partly because it is seen as a colonial power in the past and also they are portraying it that essentially it is anti-Islamic and it is an enemy of Islam, and obviously we have a lot of Islamic radicals in Yemen," said Wilson.

He says counter-terrorism measures in Yemen have been stepped up since the end of last year. In December al-Qaida's Yemen wing claimed responsibility for a failed plot to blow up a U.S.-bound flight.

But Wilson says ridding the country of terrorists is a major challenge.

"Essentially it is a very fragmented country," explained Wilson. "Government has problems basically controlling anything beyond the capital. Also it is a very poor country. It faces many challenges in terms of its economic development. It is just a very difficult environment in which to be waging a campaign against terrorists."

Britain was not the only Western power under threat in Yemen, a gunman has shot and killed a Frenchman at the Austrian oil and gas company OMV, near Sana'a.