Two U.S. embassy officers in Yemen shot and killed two armed men in Sanaa last month.
“The Embassy officers are no longer in Yemen,” State Department spokesperson Marie Harf said in a written statement. “Per standard procedure for any such incident involving embassy officers overseas, this matter is under review.”
Harf added that the officers fired because the armed individuals were attempting to kidnap them.
This news matters because an incident of this kind has the potential to inflame tensions with a key U.S. ally on the war on terror. If you remember, back in 2011, CIA contractor Raymond Davis killed two men in Lahore, Pakistan. He was detained and eventually released, but the incident sparked anti-American protests and strained diplomatic relations.
Quoting an unnamed U.S. official, The New York Times reports one of the Americans in the Yemen case worked for the elite Joint Special Operations Command and the other was a CIA officer. It’s unclear what they were doing at the time of the shootings.
The killings, the paper reports, also come at a tenuous time for Yemen. The Times explains:
“News of the shootings comes at a perilous moment for the government of President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, whose collaboration with American drone strikes against suspected members of Al Qaeda is already a subject of seething resentment in Yemen. Yemenis believe, with some evidence, that the drone strikes often kill nearby civilians as well as their targets, so any indication that Mr. Hadi’s government helped conceal the killing of Yemenis by American commandos could be problematic.
“Violence in the country is increasing, and on Friday, militants attacked a checkpoint outside the presidential palace, apparently in retaliation for the government’s roughly 10-day offensive against Qaeda strongholds.”
The Times identifies the two men as Yemeni citizens, but a spokesman for the Yemeni Embassy in Washington, D.C., would not confirm the nationalities of those involved in the incident.
NPR’s Hansi Lo Wang reports the spokesman did identify the suspected kidnappers as members of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.