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STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

Authorities are rounding up suspects today in Yemen. That's where there was an attack on the U.S. Embassy. A vehicle packed with explosives blew up outside the embassy's main gates. Six attackers were among the 16 dead in that attack. NPR's Ivan Watson is now outside the embassy gates in Yemen's capital Sana'a. And Ivan, what does it look like?

IVAN WATSON: Steve, I'm standing amid the rubble of what was a brazen frontal assault on the heavily fortified U.S. Embassy compound. There is twisted metal scattered on the streets here, glass, bits of human flesh, as well as the burned-out ruins of several vehicles. What happened was around nine o'clock in the morning on Wednesday, a vehicle burst through here. One of the armed passengers shot and killed an embassy security guard, and they lifted the drop gates at the outer perimeter of the embassy compound and pulled aside some other barriers, and then the vehicle was packed with explosives and it targeted a Yemeni armored security vehicle.

Then a second vehicle packed with explosives and carrying passengers who were armed rolled up, and they opened fire on the embassy. I'm looking at bullet holes in the guard window of the embassy outer walls. A battle ensued here, and there was a second explosion. So this was a pitched battle that took place here, right outside the gates of the U.S. Embassy. The battle between the Yemeni government and al-Qaeda has gone on for several years. The Yemeni government signed on very quickly to the Bush administration's war on terror after the September 11 attacks.

But the number of incidents involving al-Qaeda related groups has intensified, particularly over the last year. This embassy itself has been attacked five times in five years. Also over the course of the past year, insurgent groups have attacked tourist destinations, killed foreign tourists. They've also attacked oil installations, so foreign interests in Yemen have definitely been targeted. And there is no sign that this growing problem is going away.

INSKEEP: Haven't there been terror attacks in Yemen and also terrorist recruits linked to Yemen going back many years now?

WATSON: There have. Yemen is the ancestral homeland of Osama bin Laden. There were al-Qaeda training camps here. And there are a number of detainees in Guantanamo Bay who are Yemeni citizens as well. The Yemeni government has promised to fight against al-Qaeda, but Washington has indicated that not enough has been done, that some suspects - convicted individuals who have been involved in the attack on the U.S.S. Cole, a Navy ship that was hit several years ago with 17 servicemen killed there - that that attacker was released for some time.

But the Yemeni government is weak. Until the last year, really, al-Qaeda itself hasn't posed a direct threat to the stability of the Yemeni government itself. That may be changing with this increase of attacks on tourism industry and on the oil industry here, which has a direct impact on the Yemeni government's revenues.

INSKEEP: Ivan, were any Americans killed at that spot where you're standing today?

WATSON: We're getting reports from New York that a high school student, 18-year-old Susan El-Baneh, was killed in this attack. She had come back to Yemen last month to get married and was preparing to go back to finish her senior year in high school. U.S. embassy officials have not been able to confirm that, but family members and the principal of her high school have indicated that she is one of the victims of yesterday's battle.

INSKEEP: NPR's Ivan Watson is standing outside the U.S. Embassy in Yemen. Ivan, thanks very much.

WATSON: You're welcome, Steve.

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