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In Yemen U.S., British Embassies In Yemen Extend Closures, French Shut Doors Over Terrorist Threats

Police and soldiers near the U.S. Embassy in the Yemeni capital following an attack in September 2008.

Police and soldiers near the U.S. Embassy in the Yemeni capital following an attack in September 2008.

The U.S. and British Embassies in Yemen remain closed for a second day, as U.S. officials say there are indications an Al-Qaeda affiliate in the region is planning an attack on Western interests in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa.

The U.S. and British Embassies in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, remain closed for a second day today over the threat of planned attacks by the Al-Qaeda terror network.

On January 3, White House counterterrorism chief John Brennan said there are indications a branch of Al-Qaeda is planning an attack in Sanaa.

"We know that they [Al-Qaeda] have been targeting our embassy, our embassy personnel, and we want to make sure we do everything possible to safeguard our diplomats and others that are down there," Brennan said.

News agencies quoted an unnamed U.S. diplomat in Sanaa as saying today the embassy is continuing a "security review."

The British Embassy in Yemen has cited security reasons for its closure, without giving details.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who called Yemen a "failing state" in a BBC interview on January 3, has scheduled an aid conference in London for the impoverished Arabian Peninsula state later this month.

French Close Doors

France shut its embassy in Yemen to the public until further notice amid concerns over possible attacks, the Foreign Ministry announced today.

"On January 3, our ambassador decided not to authorize any public access to the diplomatic mission until further notice," France's Foreign Ministry said in a statement quoted by Reuters.

It said the level of security had already been high at the embassy and that the ambassador had asked French citizens in Yemen to be particularly careful and avoid travel given the current situation.

It remains unclear when the embassies will reopen.

The Yemeni government, meanwhile, has stepped up security measures around the Sanaa airport and the U.S. and British Embassies, as well as the diplomatic missions of Germany and Saudi Arabia.

Authorities have also tightened security on the country's coast to stop Islamic militants crossing the Gulf of Aden into Yemen from Somalia.

Al-Qaeda's New Front

Al-Qaeda is believed to be developing a base in Yemen, where poverty and instability have created a power vacuum. Yemen is facing a Shi'ite insurgency in the north and separatist movements in the south.

Experts believe Al-Qaeda is based primarily in the country's lawless regions of Ma'rib, Al-Jawf, and Hadhramaut along the country's border with Saudi Arabia, where the central government has failed to assert control.

U.S. President Barack Obama has accused Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, as the regional branch of the terrorist network is known, of training and arming a young Nigerian man, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who attempted to set off a bomb on a U.S.-bound passenger jet on Christmas Day.

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has claimed responsibility for the failed attack, and has urged Muslims to target Western interests in the region.

U.S. officials suspect that Abdulmutallab has ties to Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical U.S.-born cleric currently believed to be residing in Yemen.

Awlaki is also believed to be linked to three of the September 11, 2001, hijackers as well as Nidal Malik Hasan, the man accused of killing 13 people in a November gun rampage at the Fort Hood military base in Texas.

The U.S. Embassy in Sanaa was the target of a terrorist attack in September 2008, which killed 19 people, including a U.S. citizen. The attack was blamed on Al-Qaeda.

The United States has been providing training and support to the Yemeni government to fight militant groups on its soil. Yemen received $67 million in U.S. aid in 2009 alone.

On January 2, General David Petraeus, the head of U.S. military operations in the Middle East and Central Asia, with Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, pledging more support in the hunt against Al-Qaeda.

The same day, Yemeni authorities said they had contributed additional troops to fight Al-Qaeda.

compiled from agency reports