San’a, Yemen (AP) - A car bomb hit the front gate of the U.S. Embassy compound in Yemen's capital on Wednesday, causing unspecified casualties, a U.S. spokesman said.
Ryan Gliha, the embassy spokesman, told The Associated Press by telephone that there was a second explosion that followed the initial one, but did not know what caused it.
A Yemeni security official said the embassy was hit by two car bombs and that heavy gunfire lasting around 10 minutes followed the blasts.
Several nearby homes were badly damaged by the blasts, he said, but had no information on whether the heavily guarded embassy sustained damage too. He said three of the embassy's guards were wounded, but he did not know their nationalities.
A medical official, meanwhile, said at least seven Yemeni nationals were wounded and taken to the city's Republican hospital. They are residents of a housing compound near the embassy and included children, he said.
Both the security and medical officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information to the media.
Explosions and heavy gunfire were heard near the embassy in the eastern section of San'a and police swiftly cordoned off the area, according to a government security official and an AP reporter at the scene.
The AP reporter said ambulance cars rushed to the area after the blasts and that hundreds of heavily armed security forces were deployed around the compound. Police kept reporters well away from the immediate area of the embassy, he said.
Regional TV news networks Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya reported that a fire broke out in one of the embassy's buildings. The AP reporter said a fire truck was seen headed to the scene, but Gliha, the embassy spokesman, denied the report.
The U.S. Embassy in Yemen, which is the ancestral homeland of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, has been the focus of violence in the past. The terror network is active in the impoverished nation in the south and southwestern corner of the Arabian Peninsula.
In March, three mortar rounds targeting the U.S. Embassy crashed into a high school for girls next door, killing a Yemeni security guard and wounding more than a dozen girls.
In March 2002, a Yemeni man lobbed a sound grenade into the U.S. embassy grounds a day after Vice President Dick Cheney made a stop for talks with officials at San'a airport.
The attacker, who allegedly sought to retaliate against what he called American bias toward Israel, was sentenced to 10 years in prison but the sentence was later reduced to seven years.
In March 2003, two people were fatally shot and dozens more were injured when police clashed with demonstrators trying to storm the embassy when tens of thousands rallied against the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
In 2006, a gunman opened fire outside the embassy but was shot and arrested by Yemeni guards. The gunman, armed with a Kalashnikov rifle, claimed he wanted to kill Americans.
Al Qaeda has an active presence in Yemen despite government efforts to destroy it.
The group was blamed for the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole destroyer in the Yemeni port of Aden that killed 17 American sailors and an attack on a French oil tanker that killed one person two years later.
Associated Press reporter Maggie Micahel in Cairo, Egypt, contributed to this report.
Al Qaeda suspected