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UK Envoy to Yemen Escapes Suicide Bomb Attack

The British ambassador to Yemen escaped an attack by a suicide bomber Monday in Sana'a. Britain closed its mission temporarily and advised its citizens to maintain a low profile.

Ambassador Timothy Torlot was in a convoy driving through an eastern part of the capital when the blast went off outside his car. Yemeni officials said the would-be assassin was killed in the attack.

There was no claim of responsibility, but authorities said the attack resembles others by al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, the local offshoot of the terror network.

It was not immediately clear how the bomber knew the ambassador's route, as foreign officials are careful to conceal details of their movements. Stephen Steinbeiser, resident director of the American Institute for Yemeni Studies in Sana'a, said the fact there was some precision and access involved is “disturbing.”

Security is already tight around foreign missions, after an attack outside the U.S. embassy in 2008 and the threat of attacks against it and several others earlier this year. Al-Qaida militants have launched previous attacks on foreign commercial and military interests around the country, as well as foreign tourists.

The government has been fighting al-Qaida mainly in their bases in the eastern part of the country. Foreign countries have been pouring money into Yemen to help with its counter-insurgency measures. The aid took on added urgency after a Nigerian man accused of trying to blow up a U.S. airliner last year was said to have received training in Yemen.

Some Western diplomats have raised concerns the country is on the verge of becoming a failed state. It suffers from two insurgent movements, one in the south, the other in the north, although a ceasefire there appears to be holding. Yemen is also the poorest country in the Arab world and much of the international aid has been focussed on improving conditions, with the aim of making terrorism less appealing.

Political analyst Steinbeiser said that may help with some anti-government groups, "but when it comes to terrorism, I think the terrorists are after something different.” He argued that “they want the destabilization of Yemen and I think that the only way for the government to do that [counter them] is militarily."

Earlier this month, the United States was reported to have taken the highly unusual step of authorizing the killing of an American citizen abroad, the Yemen-based radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki who is believed to be involved in terrorist attacks.