A bomb placed under the driver's seat of a British man's car blew up in southern Yemen on Wednesday, killing the man, security officials said, while opposition parties accused the government of trying to assassinate the leader of a key Islamist opposition group in an attack in the capital.
Security across Yemen has nearly collapsed after five months of mass protests calling for the end of autocratic President Ali Abdullah Saleh's 33-year rule. The U.S. and Yemen's Gulf Arab neighbors fear that al-Qaida and other armed groups could exploit the chaos engulfing this impoverished corner of the Arabian Peninsula to step up operations.
The British man, who was not identified, was killed after a bomb planted in his sport utility vehicle blew up as he drove through the southern port city of Aden, security officials said. The man worked for the Aden-based Arab Company for Inspection and Marine Consulting.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the bombing, and security officials had no word on the motives behind the attack. The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media, said the man returned Wednesday morning from the city of Hodeida on Yemen's west coast. His car exploded a few hours later after he left the hotel where he was staying.
The officials said the explosives were placed under the driver' seat, but were unsure whether the they were planted while the car was at the hotel or earlier.
Britain's Foreign Office confirmed that a car bomb had killed a British national in Aden and said it asked Yemeni authorities to investigate.
Yemeni officials blame a rise in violence in southern Yemen on al-Qaida-linked militants they say are taking advantage of the country's political turmoil.
Islamic militants associated with al-Qaida have seized two towns, Zinjibar and Jaar, just east of Aden. Yemeni armed forces have been fighting to push them out, killing people on both sides and sending thousands of civilians fleeing to Aden and other nearby cities.
Some fear the militants seek to seize Aden as well _ which would put them in control of a major port at the southern entrance to the Red Sea _ though most doubt the group can take the city.
Late last month, the Defense Ministry said six suspected al-Qaida militants were arrested as they tried to enter Aden in a truck loaded with explosives and weapons concealed under a cargo of cattle feed.
Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula has an estimated 300 hard-core members, and is not seen as capable of seizing control on a wide scale, but the U.S. says the group is now the terror network's most active branch.
The group was linked to several nearly successful attacks on U.S. targets, including the plot to bomb a Detroit-bound airliner in December 2009 with a bomb sewn into the underwear of a would-be suicide attacker. It also put sophisticated bombs into U.S.-addressed parcels that made it onto cargo flights last year but were caught before they exploded.
Also Wednesday, Yemen's largest grouping of opposition parties accused the Saleh regime of trying to assassinate the leader of the Islamist Islah party, Mohammed Yadoumi.
The parties said Yadoumi was driving in the capital Sanaa when someone opened fire on his car. Islah party officials said four bullets hit the vehicle, but Yadoumi escaped unharmed.
In a statement, the so-called Joint Meeting Parties blamed Saleh's security apparatus for the attack, accusing it of trying to "throw the nation into civil war."
"The remains of Saleh's family imagine that this will allow them to remain in power," it said.
Yadoumi's Islamist Islah party is among the strongest opposition forces in Yemen. It holds a strong parliamentary minority, and it has been active in the anti-Saleh protests this year.
Officials from Saleh's government were not immediately available for comment.
North of the capital, a tank fired on a car, killing three tribesmen, said local tribal leader Ali Seif said. The mountainous region has seen frequent clashes between the elite Republican Guard forces, commanded by one of Saleh's sons, and tribes who oppose the president.
Seif said more than 45 people have been killed in clashes in the region in the past two months.