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 barber shop in the country's capital two weeks ago, U.S. officials said Friday.
The two Americans were whisked out of the volatile Middle East nation within a few days of the shooting, with the blessing of the Yemeni government, two senior U.S. officials said.
News of the shootings comes 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 there.
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 U.S. commandos could be explosive.
Violence in the country is increasing, and on Friday, militants attacked the presidential palace, apparently in retaliation for the government's roughly 10-day 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 in a barber shop on Hadda Street in Sanaa, in an upscale district frequently visited by foreigners, downplaying any suggestions that 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," a State Department spokeswoman, Marie Harf, said in an email response to questions from The New York Times. "Two of the armed individuals were killed. The Embassy officers are no longer in Yemen."
The killings were reported in the Yemeni news media in the days after the shooting but attributed to unknown gunmen.