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US shuts Yemen embassy as part of new focus on Al Qaeda

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Reuters / File

(Read caption) A soldier stands guard in front of the US embassy following bomb attacks in Sanaa in this Sept. 18, 2008 file photo. The embassy has closed in response to threats by Al Qaeda on Sunday.

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The US and Britain closed their embassies in Yemen Sunday, citing threats from Al Qaeda. Coming one day after President Obama publicly linked the Al Qaeda branch in Yemen to the failed airline bomb plot on Christmas Day, the move signals that the US is now taking the growing Al Qaeda threat in Yemen more seriously.
BBC News reports that it is unclear how long both embassies will remain closed. The US embassy released a statement saying that it would be closed Sunday, but did not specify when the mission would reopen. Agence France-Presse also reports that the US embassy sent a message to US citizens in Yemen Thursday reminding them of the terrorist threat.

The US embassy in Yemen's capital, Sanaa, has been attacked before: In 2008, a car bomb attack killed 19 people, including one American. And in 2000, the attack on the USS Cole killed 17 American sailors, as The Christian Science Monitor reported recently in a review of Al Qaeda-linked attacks that have involved Yemen.

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 The impoverished country has been in the spotlight recently as its Al Qaeda affiliate, called Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, appears to be establishing a foothold there from which to launch global attacks. At the same time, Yemen’s government is also fighting rebels in the north and a separatist movement in the south and is unable to control large parts of the country.
The Wall Street Journal reports that Mr. Obama for the first time Saturday linked Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian man who allegedly tried to bomb a US flight on Christmas day, to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Obama said that Yemen’s Al Qaeda affiliate “trained him, equipped him with those explosives and directed him to attack that plane headed for America." The president also said he had made it a priority to fight terrorism in Yemen by training and equipping their security forces, sharing intelligence, and providing support for airtstrikes against militants.
Underscoring the redoubled effort of the US to fight terrorism in Yemen, Gen. David Petraeus visited Yemen Saturday after announcing Friday that the US would double its counterterrorism aid to Yemen from $67 million in 2009, reported BBC News. According to Agence France-Presse, the US and the UK have agreed to fund a special counterextremism police force in Yemen.
In an analysis of the growing threat from Yemen, The Washington Post reports that a US failure to make fighting terrorism in Yemen a priority in the decade after the USS Cole bombing allowed Al Qaeda to establish a foothold there, forcing the US to open another counterterrorism front.