Citing the “ongoing threat” of another terrorist attack, and saying it was “not going to take any chances with the lives of staff”, the United States has closed its embassy in Yemen, in a move that adds to a rising sense of urgency about the threat from Islamic extremists in that country.
Britain and Spain swiftly followed suit, urging foreign nationals there to be especially vigilant. Militants linked to al Qaida, who control large areas outside the major cities, have been held responsible for the failed Christmas day bomb plot in the US.
A statement on the website of the US embassy in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, did not say how long the closure would last. The British Foreign Office said its buildings there were closed for “security reasons”. Spain's will remain shut until tomorrow, the newspaper El Mundo reported.
John Brennan, the White House counter-terrorism chief, toured US news studios yesterday discussing Yemen's role in the failed plot to blow up an airliner over Detroit. He said Yemen must do more to tackle its home-grown extremists.”We are very concerned at al Qaida's continued growth there,” Mr Brennan said, adding that US security agencies in Yemen had recently received credible intelligence that the group is “planning to carry out an attack against a target inside of Sanaa, possibly our embassy”.
The US has announced that it will double the roughly $70m (£43m) in security aid it gives annually to Yemen, while the UK government revealed that Washington and London will jointly fund a counter-terrorism police unit there.
Gordon Brown yesterday added that Britain will host an international conference in London, on 28 January, to come up with an international strategy for dealing with the apparently critical threat from extremists based in the Arabian country. “We've got to recognise that we have a group of young people who have been radicalised as a result of teaching by extreme clerics,” Mr Brown told the BBC's Andrew Marr.
“We're fighting a battle for hearts and minds here as much as anything else,” he said, adding that as Yemen is a “failing state” Western nations have to be “careful” whom they help.
The international conference will, he said, discuss ways to “prevent the perversion of a good re
ligion, Islam, by a group of people who will stop at nothing in a murderous ideology that tries to create the sense that everybody is an enemy except those who believe a particular version of Islam”.
In a separate move that may add to delays for flyers, the Prime Minister added that UK airports will “gradually” install full body scanning at security checkpoints. Passengers “will see checks for explosive traces,” he said.
“We've recognised that there are new forms of weapon being used by al Qaida, so we've got to respond.”
Yemen has faced heavy scrutiny over recent days after the arrest of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian-born student who smuggled explosives concealed in his underpants onto Northwest Airlines Flight 253 in the US, and came close to detonating a deadly bomb.
Mr Abdulmutalab has told US interrogators that he was trained in Yemen by a group called “al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula”.