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United States, Britain Closing Embassies in Yemen

The United States and Britain have decided to close their embassies in Yemen in the wake of threats of their being attacked by terrorists.
By Malkah Fleisher
First Publish: 1/3/2010, 9:42 PM / Last Update: 1/3/2010, 9:59 PM

The United States and the United Kingdom have decided to close their embassies in Yemen in the wake of threats of their being attacked by terrorists.

Though U.S. President Barack Obama sent a letter to Yemen's president to congratulate him on his counterterror efforts just a day before, the American embassy in Yemen announced on Sunday that it would be closed effective immediately "in response to ongoing threats by Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to attack American interests in Yemen."  

The United States believes the threats are linked to the failed December 25 bombing of Detroit-bound Northwest Flight 253 out of Amsterdam, on which a Nigerian national attempted to ignite a homemade incendiary device.

The terrorist, Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab, 23, told U.S. investigators that he received training and direction from an Al-Qaeda cell in Yemen, where he was told him to blow up the plane over American soil. Yemen is also the home country of Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.

President Obama's weekly address of January 2 made reference to the threat coming out of Yemen and promised that America will be "dramatically increasing our resources in the region where Al-Qaeda is actually based, in Afghanistan and Pakistan." However, government officials said that the United States is not widening its anti-terrorist front to include Yemen.

This is not the first time the United States has shut down the Yemen embassy, located in a country which has frequently produced terrorist operatives whose lethal attacks have claimed American lives.

In September 2008, terrorists armed with guns and explosive-laden cars attacked the San'a embassy, killing 19 people.  Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for the attack. In March of the same year, three missiles aimed at the U.S. embassy missed their mark, hitting a girls' school. In March 2003, two people were killed and dozens more injured after local demonstrators tried to storm the embassy.

Al-Qaeda terrorists in October 2000 killed 17 American sailors in an attack on the U.S. Naval destroyer USS Cole, which was docked for fueling in Yemen's Aden harbor. The first naval ship to assist the Cole was the United Kingdom's HMS Marlborough, which rerouted and took some of the most injured sailors to France for medical assistance.

UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown pledged his partnership with Obama in combating terror out of Yemen through the creation of a special police unit, also closing the British embassy in Yemen on January 3. 

It is unclear when either of the embassies will re-open. In the meantime, officials are urging their respective citizens in Yemen to exercise caution in the country.

Britain is already training counterterror officials for the new unit and is expected to invest 100 million pounds ($161 million) in counterterror operations in Yemen in 2011, according to Britain's Guardian newspaper.

For its part, the government of Yemen has deployed several hundred additional troops to two eastern mountainous al-Qaeda strongholds, according to the Associated Press.