The U.S. is aware of reports that al-Qaeda’s Yemen affiliate has offered a reward in gold for anyone who kills the U.S. ambassador in Yemen, State Department spokesman Peter Velasco said today.
The threat comes as the U.S. has ramped up its covert program of drone air strikes this year targeting senior al-Qaeda operatives in remote areas of Yemen.
The group al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula offered three kilograms of gold, worth about $160,000, for killing Ambassador Gerald Feierstein, according to an audio statement produced by the group’s media arm and posted on militant websites Dec. 29, the Associated Press reported.
“We take these threats very seriously,” Velasco said by telephone.
“Our embassy in Yemen already operates in a highly sensitive and difficult situation,” he said. “We continue to support the government, military and people of Yemen in their efforts against violent extremism and terrorism.”
He wouldn’t comment on whether security has increased since the threat.
Feierstein, a career Foreign Service officer who is a specialist in Near East and South Asian Affairs, has served as ambassador to Yemen since September 2010.
The U.S. is known to have carried out at least 42 air strikes against the group in Yemen this year, including four this month, according to the website the Long War Journal, which tracks such reports. It says there were 10 known U.S. strikes in Yemen in 2011.
The Long War Journal, a project of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a Washington policy group, says there were 193 reported al-Qaeda casualties from the strikes this year, up from 81 in 2011, and 35 civilian casualties, up from none the year before.
To contact the reporters on this story: Indira A.R. Lakshmanan in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org; Terry Atlas in Washington at email@example.com
To contact the editor responsible for this story: John Walcott at firstname.lastname@example.org