In April, Islamist militants that were part of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) tried and failed to abduct a Central Intelligence Agency officer and U.S. Special Ops commando while they were at a barbershop in Sana’a, Yemen’s Capital city.
The U.S. officers unloaded their weapons on the attackers, eliminating the threat posed to them. The officers were flown out of Yemen and back to the United States shortly after the incident occurred.
U.S. officials confirmed the U.S. Embassy workers were not diplomats, but rather Central Intelligence Agency and U.S. Special Ops officers. The officers were presumably using the embassy jobs as cover for their actual operations.
“We can confirm that, last month, two U.S. Embassy officers in Yemen fired their weapons after being confronted by armed individuals in an attempted kidnapping at a small commercial business district in Sanaa. Two of the armed individuals were killed,” said State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf.
Yemeni officials were not pleased when news revealed the American officers were supposedly violating their normally held duties.
A Yemeni official told CNN the two American diplomats were not adhering to their protocol. “These individuals violated security protocol,” he said. “U.S. Embassy personnel are not allowed to leave their secure facilities. The American who shot the kidnappers had a gun permit and was authorized to carry a gun. The two armed kidnappers were AQAP militants. They weren’t unarmed civilians.”
The U.S. State Department would not confirm or deny whether the officers were violating their protocol. “Per standard procedure for any such incident involving Embassy officers overseas, this matter is under review,” said Harf.
The killings had been reported in local media outlets based in Yemen, but the perpetrators were, until recently, identified as unknown gunmen. One local news site reported, “Two armed men tried to kidnap a foreign citizen as he was leaving a barber in Hadda Street in Sana’a.”
The United States and Yemeni forces have frequently collaborated on matters of intelligence and military operations when trying to stifle threats posed by AQAP. They have ramped up their efforts over the past few weeks, frequently employing unmanned drones to strategically target Al Qaeda strongholds in Yemen.
What remains unclear at this time is how Al Qaeda members acquired intelligence sophisticated enough to hunt down U.S. clandestine agents.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Embassy in Yemen temporarily shut down due to a potential threat. The measure was explained by State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki: “Due to recent attacks against Western interests in Yemen, we have temporarily suspended operations of our Embassy in Sana’a to the public,” she said. U.S. officials were worried about a “credible threat” on Western interests posed by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.