SANA, Yemen — A masked gunman assassinated a Yemeni security official who worked for the US Embassy in a drive-by shooting Thursday near his home in the capital, officials said, adding that the assault bore the hallmarks of Al Qaeda’s Yemen branch.
The attack comes amid a sharp deterioration of security in Yemen and several other Muslim countries since the collapse of police states controlled by autocratic leaders during a wave of uprisings known as the Arab Spring.
An elite team of some 50 Marines that was sent to Sana to bolster security at the US Embassy after a Sept. 13 attack by protesters was scheduled to leave later Thursday, and it was not clear if the attack would affect those plans, Yemeni officials said.
The officials noted it was similar to a series of other recent assaults by Al Qaeda’s Yemen branch, although they said it was too early to confirm the group’s involvement. Washington considers the Yemen-based Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula the most dangerous offshoot of the terror network. It has also been increasingly targeting Yemeni intelligence, military, and security officials in retaliation for a US-backed government offensive in the south.
Yemeni security officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to release the information, identified the slain embassy security official as Qassem Aqlani, in his 50s.
He was on his way to work when a gunman on a motorcycle opened fire at him and fled, they said. The attack was near Aqlani’s home in western Sana, while the embassy is located in the eastern half of the city.
Aqlani had been working for the US Embassy for nearly 20 years. Yemeni officials initially said he was the lead investigator into last month’s assault on the compound by Yemenis protesting an anti-Islam film.
But State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said he was not involved in the investigation. In the Sept. 13 assault, protesters stormed the embassy and set fire to a US flag before government forces dispersed them with tear gas.
Al Qaeda’s Yemen branch has called for attacks on US embassies in a bid to take advantage of the anti-American sentiment that has swept the Middle East and other parts of the Muslim world in the past month over the film, which denigrated the Prophet Mohammed.
Initially, the film was linked to a Sept. 11 attack on the US Consulate in the Libyan city of Benghazi that left four Americans dead, including US Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. US officials said later that the attack was not linked to the video and was a terrorist attack.