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Sources: U.S. Embassy in Yemen targeted for attack

By Andrea Koppel
CNN State Department Correspondent

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- In recent days the U.S. Embassy in Yemen was not only targeted by terrorists but also came dangerously close to being attacked, several Bush administration sources told CNN on Monday.

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An attack on the USS Cole last year in the Yemeni port of Aden killed 17 sailors  

The report comes as the U.S. State Department was downplaying reports of a plot, foiled by Indian police, to attack the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi.

Referring to the embassy in Yemen, one U.S. official said: "We narrowly dodged a serious attack." An attack in Yemen last year against the USS Cole killed 17 sailors. The embassy threat was "imminent, specific and credible," the official added.

Another senior State Department official said: "This was a group planning something."

Last week the State Department issued a travel warning for Yemen due to the high level of risk for U.S. citizens. It also ordered all non-essential U.S. Embassy employees to return to the United States and closed the embassy in Sana'a, Yemen's capital, where it remains closed.

U.S. officials say the group planning to attack the U.S. Embassy in Sana'a had hand grenades and has since been arrested by local authorities. Details about this group, its members and the exact nature of the "imminent" embassy attack are still "unclear" and under investigation.

One U.S. official said it is "unclear whether this was home-grown or whether they received support from outside." "Outside support" is a euphemism for links to camps in Afghanistan, where Saudi exile and alleged terrorist Osama bin Laden and others run training camps.

State Department officials say the threat level in Yemen and throughout the Arabian Peninsula "remains high."

As a result of these latest threats, the FBI on Sunday withdrew its last "dozen or so" investigators from Yemen, the agency confirmed Monday.

The FBI "believes there were credible threats to its employees" and won't return until the Yemeni authorities give them the all-clear, explained one U.S. official.

However, a White House official told CNN Correspondent John King that there was no "specific plot" against the embassy in Yemen. This official added that saying "'attack averted' implies there was an operation under way or about to get under way." The official said the FBI is leaving because "the FBI believed there was a credible threat to its employees and decided to withdraw its personnel."

Since the attack on the USS Cole on October 12, the FBI has opened a field office in Yemen to facilitate its investigation. Last month a team of FBI investigators left the country, leaving a minimal presence, and then this month it moved its office from Aden, where the Cole attack occurred, to Sana'a.

The USS Cole was refueling in the port of Aden when a small harbor skiff pulled alongside the Navy destroyer and detonated explosives that killed 17 sailors, injured 39 others and nearly sank the ship.

Meanwhile, an official told CNN earlier on Monday that the State Department believes reports about an alleged plot over the weekend to bomb the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, India, are "overblown" and that suggested links to bin Laden are "greatly exaggerated."

Two people, an Indian and a Sudanese national, were arrested on Friday in India in connection with the alleged bombing plot. A third man, an Indian, was arrested on Saturday.

According to police, the men were planning to use a car bomb to blow up the embassy building on August 15, India's independence day.





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