Last updated: 18 January, 2014

Iran diplomat shot dead in Yemen drive-by attack

An Iranian diplomat was fatally wounded in a drive-by shooting outside the ambassador’s residence in the Yemeni capital Saturday, the third attack on embassy personnel in recent months.

A medic at Sanaa’s Modern German Hospital told AFP the diplomat, Ali Asghar Assadi, had been “hit in the shoulder, abdomen and stomach.”

“He was taken to the operating theatre then transferred to intensive care but died after an hour and half.”

Iran confirmed the death and swiftly condemned what it said was a new kidnap attempt against one of its diplomats in Yemen. In July, embassy staffer Nour-Ahmad Nikbakht was abducted by suspected Al-Qaeda militants, and tribal sources say he remains in captivity.

“Ali Asghar Assadi, the Iranian diplomat who had been injured in the terrorist attack in Sanaa, was martyred,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham told the official IRNA news agency.

Yemen’s charge d’affaires in Tehran was later summoned to the ministry, where officials conveyed “strong protest.”

Iran also demanded Sanaa swiftly finds the culprits behind the shooting, Iran’s ISNA news agency reported.

Earlier, Afkham said “a terrorist group attacked him and attempted to kidnap him but he resisted and the terrorists resorted to shooting.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran strongly condemns this incident and will follow up on the case with the Yemeni authorities,” she added in remarks to ISNA.

Yemen’s foreign ministry denounced the attack and said Assadi’s murder was aimed at damaging relations with Iran, the official Saba news agency said.

Sanaa and Tehran are “anxious to prevent any attempt to undermine these relations,” a statement said, adding that authorities are determined to bring the attackers to justice.

Witnesses said the assailants had opened up with automatic weapons before fleeing.

A police source told AFP “unidentified assailants in a van fired on the diplomat three times as he was leaving the ambassador’s residence near a shopping centre in Hadda,” the main diplomatic district of Sanaa.

Spate of attacks on foreigners

The attack comes amid deadly fighting in northern Yemen between Sunni Islamists and Zaidi Shiite rebels whom their opponents charge are receiving support from Shiite Iran.

The army deployed in the flashpoint town of Dammaj earlier this month to supervise a local truce between the Shiite rebels and Sunni hardliners but the deadly conflict had already spread to other northern provinces.

There has been a spate of attacks targeting foreigners in Sanaa in recent months.

On December 15, the Japanese consul was seriously wounded after being dragged from his car in Hadda and repeatedly stabbed.

On November 26, gunmen killed one Belarussian defence contractor and wounded another as they left their hotel.

And a German embassy guard was killed on October 6 as he resisted an attempt to kidnap him.

Yemen is the ancestral homeland of slain Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. Its local affiliate, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, is regarded by Washington as among the jihadist network’s most dangerous.

The group carries out frequent hit-and-run attacks on security personnel in its strongholds in the south and east.

But it has also carried out spectacular attacks in the capital, including a brazen daylight assault on the defence ministry last month that killed 56 people, among them foreign medical staff.

A South African teacher who was kidnapped by AQAP along with his wife in Yemen’s second city Taiz last May is still alive but in poor health, an organisation working to free him said on Saturday.

A deadline to pay $3 million (2.2 million euros) in ransom to spare 56-year-old Pierre Korkie his life expired on Friday, but a Yemeni mediator confirmed that it has now been extended for three weeks.

Mediator Anas al-Hamati helped secure the release of Korkie’s wife Yolande on January 10.

The couple had lived and worked in Yemen for four years.