At least 25 militants with suspected links to al-Qaida have been arrested in connection with the deadly attack on the U.S. Embassy in the Yemeni capital, a senior security official said Thursday.
The death toll from Wednesday's attack rose to 17 as Yemeni security officials reported that one of the seven civilians wounded in the assault had died. Among those killed in the deadliest direct assault on a U.S. Embassy in a decade were six militants and a young American woman who was recently wed in an arranged marriage.
The attackers failed to breach the compound's walls, and none of those killed or wounded were U.S. diplomats or embassy employees. But the assault was well-coordinated and more sophisticated than previous attacks on the mission, involving two suicide car bombs and a team of well-armed gunmen that managed to penetrate rings of security right to one of the embassy entrances.
In the sweep after the attack, 25 militants were rounded up from various parts of Yemen over 24 hours and were being questioned by Yemeni and U.S. investigators, the Yemeni security official said.
It is not unusual for authorities in Yemen, a key partner in the U.S.-led war on terror but for years an al-Qaida stronghold, to round up a large number of suspects after a terror attack.
The official said a U.S. team, possibly from the FBI, was on its way to Yemen to take charge of the investigation. A U.S. Embassy official would not confirm the dispatch of an FBI team.
In Washington, the State Department issued a travel warning, asking U.S. citizens to “defer nonessential travel” to Yemen. The U.S. also authorized — but did not order — the departure of the nonemergency embassy personnel. U.S. embassies in other Arab Gulf countries put out advisories warning Americans to “remain alert to personal security.”
The assault began at 9:15 on Wednesday, when militants — some dressed in army uniforms and armed with rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons — attacked Yemeni guards at a checkpoint on the street outside the embassy.
Amid the gunbattle, a suicide car bomb struck a guard post near the embassy's main gate, U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said. Moments later, a second car bomb struck near a pedestrian entrance to the compound nearby, he said.
The embassy building, a Western-style villa, stands about 100 yards beyond the entrances within the walls and so was not damaged. But civilians waiting in line for visas outside the embassy were among the casualties.
Among the civilian dead was Susan Elbaneh, 18, an American from Lackawanna, N.Y., and her Yemeni husband, who her family said had been recently wed in an arranged marriage. They were apparently at the embassy to do paperwork for the husband's move to the U.S. when the attackers struck, said Elbaneh's brother, Ahmed. The State Department confirmed the deaths Thursday.