YEMENI and US Embassy officials went on high alert recently after Al-Qaeda offered a bounty to kill US ambassador to Sanaa Gerald Feierstein or any American soldier in the country. American officials were said to be determined not to allow a repeat of the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, last Sept. 11 that left Ambassador J. Christopher Stephens and four others dead.
“We take Al-Qaeda threats to target the American ambassador and diplomats very seriously and we took all measures to foil any potential terrorist operation aiming to target them… We increased the security presence around embassies across the nation and we are ready to encounter any potential threats,” a high-ranking Yemeni Interior Ministry official said, asking to remain anonymous in line with military protocols.
He added that Yemeni security bodies and the American Embassy were cooperating to protect American diplomats, but refused to offer further details. Embassy spokesman Lou Fintor said: “We take such threats very seriously and will continue to monitor the situation closely. We are operating in a highly sensitive and difficult situation.”
The Al-Qaeda threat came in an audio message posted on the organization’s websites last week. The Yemen branch of the organization offered three kilograms of gold (6.6 pounds) worth about $ 100,000 to kill the US ambassador and five million Yemeni riyals ($ 23,000) for killing any American soldier in the country. The offer is valid for six months and the bounties aim to “inspire and encourage our Muslim nation for jihad,” the message said.
The United States considers the Yemeni branch of Al-Qaeda to be the global terrorist organization’s most dangerous and active cell. The threats come as the US has stepped up its use of drones searching for terrorist operatives in Yemen’s southern and southeastern provinces.
Just this past Friday, dozens of people in the town of Rada, briefly taken over by Al-Qaeda last year, demanded the drone attacks be halted immediately. Rada is just one of several key towns in the southern and southeastern parts of Yemen taken over by Al-Qaeda in 2011, but taken back by the Yemeni Army with assistance from the United States in May 2012.
While Yemen and the US are taking the terrorist threats very seriously, Abaad Studies and Research Center Chairman Abdusalam Mohammed downplayed them, saying they only expose Al-Qaeda’s weakness. “If the militant group could assassinate the Americans, it would have done so without publicly announcing bounties for killing them,” he said.
— This article is written for The Media Line.