Unidentified assailants opened fire on the motorcade of Yemeni Prime Minister Mohammed Salem Basindwa on Saturday, an aide said, in an apparent assassination attempt that underscored the volatility of the US-allied Arab country.
Ali al-Sarari, an adviser to Basindwa, said no one was hurt in the attack which happened in the evening in Sana’a while the prime minister was returning home from his office.
No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, but Yemen is home to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), considered one of the most aggressive branches of the global militant organization, which has previously targeted top officials.
“We strongly condemn this brazen assassination attempt and remain committed to supporting Yemen as it pursues meaningful and peaceful reform through its ongoing transition process,” a US Department of State official said in Washington.
Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi said last week that the AQAP’s leader had vowed in an intercepted telephone call to carry out an attack that would “change the face of history,” and that this was what had led to the temporary closure of many US and other Western embassies in the Middle East, Africa and Asia last month.
Hadi played down the attack as an “isolated incident” and yesterday vowed to capture and punish those involved, state news agency Saba reported.
“It’s an isolated, single incident and it had no impact worth mentioning other than the media crackle aimed at harming [the reputation] of the government in particular and the country in general,” Saba quoted Hadi as saying.
Sarari said Basindwa’s guards identified the license plates of the car used in the attack and security forces were trying to track it down after the assailants fled the scene.
Basindwa was chosen to head a government of national unity in 2011 after long-serving former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh quit under a Gulf-brokered power transfer deal that propelled his deputy, Hadi, to power.
The US government supports Yemeni forces with funds and logistical support, and has regularly used drones to hunt down al-Qaeda militants.
A local Yemeni source said on Friday that four suspected militants were killed in a US drone strike in the central al-Bayda Province.
However, the Interior Ministry said on Saturday that five local al-Qaeda leaders, all from the same extended family, died in an air strike in al-Bayda Province.
Local sources identified one of them as Qa’ed al-Dahab, as the commander of an al-Qaeda-linked group in al-Bayda and said he had previously escaped at least two drone strikes.