The death toll rose to 17 as Yemeni security officials
reported that one of the seven civilians wounded in the dramatic assault had
died, according to the Associated Press.
Six militants were also killed, but the attackers failed to
breach the compound’s walls. None of those killed or wounded were U.S.
diplomats or embassy employees.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack identified the American
woman as Susan Elbaneh, 18, of Lackawanna, N.Y., who was killed while standing
in line with members of her family applying to visit the United States.
Elbaneh, a high school senior of Yenemi descent, had
traveled to Yemen last month to be wed in an arranged marriage, according to
the Buffalo News and the AP. The couple was planning to return to New York to
live, her brother Ahmed Elbaneh said Wednesday.
Lackawanna, which is near Buffalo, gained notoriety in
recent years as the home of the “Lackawanna Six.” a group of
Yemeni-American men imprisoned for traveling to an al-Qaida training camp in
Susan Elbaneh, who was born in the U.S. and raised in
Lackawanna’s Yemeni community, was related to a seventh alleged member of the
group, Jaber Elbaneh, who faces U.S. charges of providing material support to a
foreign terrorist organization.
Relatives, however, stressed that has nothing to do with
Susan, an innocent victim. They said neither she nor they have had any contact
with Jaber Elbaneh, who was convicted in Yemen for planning attacks on oil
installations and is in Yemeni custody.
Ahmed Elbaneh said his younger sister was not concerned
about terrorism or violence before traveling to Yemen.
“She was just happy to get married,” he said.
Wednesday’s attack was more coordinated and sophisticated
than previous attacks on the mission. Two suicide car bombs and a team of
well-armed gunmen managed to penetrate rings of security to get to one of the
The assault began at 9:15 a.m. 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 gun battle, a suicide car bomb struck a guard post
near the embassy’s main gate, the State Department ‘s McCormack said. “It
did not reach the actual entrance to the embassy” and did not breach the
wall, he told reporters in Washington. 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
In the sweep after the attack, 25 militants were rounded up
from various parts of Yemen over 24 hours. They were being questioned by Yemeni
and U.S. investigators, a Yemeni security official told the AP, speaking on
condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to give details.
It is not unusual for authorities in Yemen, long known as an
al-Qaida stronghold, to round up a large number of suspects after a terror
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. Yemen is considered a key
partner in the U.S.-led war on terror.
A group of non-Yemeni men were investigating the damage
caused by the attack outside the embassy’s large walls on Thursday, the AP
In Washington, the State Department issued a travel warning,
asking American citizens to “defer nonessential travel” to Yemen. The
U.S. also authorized — but did not order — the departure of the non-emergency
embassy personnel. U.S. embassies in other Arab Gulf countries put out advisories
warning Americans to “remain alert to personal security.”
Since 2003, the U.S. Embassy has been attacked four times,
most recently in March when a volley of mortars targeting the compound hit a
neighboring girls’ high school instead, killing a Yemeni guard and wounding
dozens of female students.
There has not been a public claim of responsibility for the
attack. Some Yemeni security officials said a local militant group called
Islamic Jihad, which Yemeni authorities have cracked down on previously,
claimed responsibility. But Yemeni authorities have blamed the group in past
attacks that have later been claimed by al-Qaida.
The group is unrelated to the Palestinian group of the same
Yemen has been a focus of American counterterrorism efforts
ever since the 2000 USS Cole attack, in which 17 American sailors were killed
by suicide bombers on a boat. A similar attack two years later hit a French oil
tanker, killing one person. Since that attack and the Sept. 11 attacks, Yemen
has been cracking down on militants, earning praise from Washington.