Gunmen in a car exchanged fire Monday with police at a checkpoint near the U.S. Embassy in Yemen’s capital, an Interior Ministry official said, hours after the embassy received threats of a possible attack.
No one was injured and the two gunmen fled the scene, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not permitted to have his name made public. He said three suspects in the area were detained.
It was not clear who was behind the shooting, but al-Qaida has for years maintained a strong presence in the country, the ancestral homeland of Osama bin Laden.
In recent years, Yemen has cooperated with the U.S. in fighting terrorism, but its government has struggled to confront Islamic extremists in parts of the impoverished country in the southwestern corner of of the Arabian Peninsula.
Yemen has also been the site of numerous high-profile, al-Qaida-linked attacks, including the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in the Gulf of Aden, which killed 17 American sailors.
An attack on the U.S. Embassy in September involving gunmen and explosives-packed vehicles killed 17 people, including six militants. Al-Qaida later claimed responsibility for that attack.
A U.S. Embassy spokesman could not be reached for comment on Monday night’s shooting.
Earlier, a Yemeni security official said the U.S. Embassy received a telephone call and an e-mail early Monday saying the U.S. and Russian embassies would be targeted by al-Qaida within a few hours.
The U.S. Embassy confirmed receiving a threat about a potential attack on its compound, and security measures were heightened in the capital, San’a. Attempts to contact the Russian Embassy were not successful.
U.S. Embassy spokesman Ryan Gliha said earlier in the day that the embassy was urging American citizens to exercise caution in Yemen. He said the embassy received a threat “regarding a possible attack that could take place in the foreseeable future” but gave no further details.
Throughout the day, police were seen setting up security checkpoints and turning back cars and pedestrians on two key streets heading toward the U.S. Embassy in eastern San’a. There were also checkpoints around the Russian Embassy in downtown San’a, but traffic was not disrupted.
The U.S. Embassy also issued a warden message to Americans in Yemen advising them to be cautious and take “prudent security measures in all areas frequented by Westerners.”
It emerged last week that a Saudi man released from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay is now the No. 2 of Yemen’s al-Qaida branch.
An Internet statement purportedly from the terror network said Said Ali al-Shihri returned to his home in Saudi Arabia after his release from Guantanamo about a year ago and from there went to Yemen.
The announcement came as President Barack Obama ordered the detention facility closed within a year. Nearly 100 Yemeni detainees remain at Guantanamo, making up the biggest group of prisoners there.