WASHINGTON — A U.S. special operations commando and a CIA officer in Yemen shot and killed two armed Yemeni civilians who tried to kidnap them while the Americans were in a barbershop two weeks ago, U.S. officials said Friday.
The Americans were whisked out of the volatile Middle East nation a few days later, with the blessing of the Yemeni government, two U.S. officials said.
The shootings come at a perilous moment for the government of President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, whose collaboration with U.S. drone strikes against suspected al-Qaida militants is already a subject of seething resentment. Violence in the country is increasing, and on Friday militants attacked the presidential palace, apparently in retaliation for the government's offensive against al-Qaida strongholds.
Exactly what the two Americans were doing at the time of the shooting is unclear. Some U.S. officials said they were merely getting a haircut, downplaying any suggestions they were engaged in a clandestine operation. Late Friday, both the Pentagon and CIA declined to comment on the April 24 shooting, and referred all questions to the State Department.
"We can confirm that, last month, two U.S. Embassy officers in Yemen fired their weapons after being confronted by armed individuals in an attempted kidnapping at a small commercial business in Sanaa," State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said in an email to the New York Times. "Two of the armed individuals were killed. The Embassy officers are no longer in Yemen."