SANAA, Yemen – Gunmen killed an Iranian diplomat in a drive-by shooting in Yemen’s capital Saturday, security and medical officials said, the latest attack on Iran’s diplomatic corps in the Middle East in recent months.
Iranian state television announced that Ali Asghar Asadi, Iran’s economic attaché in Sanaa, was “martyred.” The broadcast said Asadi was attacked while driving and suffered four gunshot wounds to the chest and stomach. It did not elaborate.
Three Yemeni security officials said Asadi was leaving the Iranian ambassador’s house in the city’s southern Hadda neighborhood when assailants opened fire. They said he died in a hospital. A medical official confirmed the diplomat’s death.
Another Yemeni security official said the diplomat suffered three gunshot wounds to the chest and shoulder. The two accounts of the shooting could not be immediately reconciled, though conflicting information is common immediately after such attacks.
The official said the initial investigation suggested the gunmen first attempted to kidnap the diplomat by stopping his car. When the diplomat resisted, the assailants shot him and fled the area, which is a busy commercial district, the official said.
All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to journalists.
Relations between Iran and Yemen have soured over what Sanaa calls Iranian meddling in its domestic affairs. But Yemen’s Foreign Minister Abu Bakr al-Qirbi quickly condemned Saturday’s attack, calling it a “terrorist criminal act” that targeted bilateral relations. Al-Qirbi said the two countries want to avoid any attempts to harm relations.
“This operation has targeted the Yemeni-Iranian relations before it targeted the diplomat,” he told the state news agency SANA. He said authorities will purse the culprits and bring them to justice.
Another Iranian diplomat in Yemen was abducted by gunmen in July and remains in captivity. Officials suspect al-Qaida militants to be behind that kidnapping. Negotiations to secure his release have so far failed.
Al-Qaida’s Yemen branch is the world’s most active, using political turmoil in the impoverished Gulf country to strengthen its presence there. The government has been battling the militant groups, with assistance from the U.S., which has killed a number of suspected members in drone strikes.
Targeted killings of security officials have been on the rise in Yemen. A security official said an intelligence officer was shot dead by unknown assailants Thursday in a drive-by shooting in the southern province of Lahj.
Iran’s diplomats also have been targeted elsewhere in the region. In November, suicide bombers targeted the Iranian Embassy in Beirut, killing at least 23 people. Shiite-powerhouse Iran is the chief patron of Lebanon’s Hezbollah and an ally of Syria’s embattled President Bashar Assad.
In Yemen, the government and neighboring Saudi Arabia accuse Tehran of supporting Shiite rebels in the north, seeking to destabilize the country. Iran has dismissed the accusations.
Associated Press writer Ali Akbar Dareini in Tehran, Iran, contributed to this report.