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U.S. Official on Middle East 'Security' Tour

U.S. Under-Secretary of State William Burns is in the Middle East to discuss "security" while terrorists carry out multi-site attacks.
By Chana Ya'ar
First Publish: 10/6/2010, 6:05 PM / Last Update: 10/7/2010, 6:58 AM

Under-Secretary of State William Burns is in the Middle East this week to discuss “security” as Taliban and Al-Qaeda terrorists carry out multiple attacks.

On the agenda in Iraq was the transition to a “civilian-led partnership with Iraq.” Officials in Baghdad told the CNN news network they intended to ask the Obama administration for more high-level intensive engagement at helping them form a government.

Burns is expected to arrive in Jordan later this week to discuss a number of issues, including “Middle East peace,” according to State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley.

Meanwhile, the American official’s meeting with Yemeni government officials and politicians Monday was followed Wednesday morning at about 8:15 a.m. local time with two terror attacks in that nation’s capital, the mountainous city of San’a.

Although no group has officially claimed responsibility for the attacks, both were allegedly carried out by Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, an offshoot of the international al-Qaeda terrorist organization.

In the first, a rocket-propelled grenade was fired at a British motorcade traveling through San’a on its way to the British embassy, about two miles away from its destination. Britain’s No. 2 diplomat, Fionna Gibb -- the deputy chief of mission to the embassy -- was riding in the convoy at the time, but was not injured, despite shrapnel striking the armored vehicle and shattering the windshield. One embassy worker was lightly wounded, according to the British Foreign Office, as were three bystanders.

A terrorist attack took place in the same neighborhood in April, when a suicide bomber attempted to assassinate the British ambassador in an attack aimed at the diplomat’s armored car. The attempt failed.

In the second attack, a Yemeni security guard shot and killed a French national working as a procurement officer for the Austrian oil and gas company, OMV. According to the company, a British national was also wounded in the attack and was hospitalized. The shooter was arrested by police.

Burns released a statement Tuesday following the attacks, saying the U.S. will continue to support San’a in its fight against terrorism. Washington has allocated $150 million to help fund the effort with military training, equipment and intelligence in Yemen.

According to U.S. investigators, the Nigerian suspect who attempted to bomb a Northwest Airlines flight bound for Detroit last December received his training from Al-Qaeda operatives in Yemen.

Terrorists have stepped up their attacks across the country over the past several years, aiming especially at Western targets, including two attacks on the U.S. embassy in San’a in 2008. Both the U.S. and British embassies closed their doors for several days earlier this year due to terror alerts.

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is comprised of several Yemeni and Saudi terrorist factions that merged more than a year ago to create a network together with remote, but powerful tribes that are opposed to the government of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The attacks in San'a indicate the terrorists are no longer confined to remote regions, and have managed to infiltrate the capital.