A schoolgirl and a policeman were killed in a bomb attack on Tuesday on a government compound in the southern Yemeni province of Abyan, housing a girls' school, near the U.S. embassy that Washington says might have been anti-American but Yemeni authorities said was a criminal act.
A provincial government source said preliminary investigations suggested Islamist militants were behind the attack. Witnesses said the blast happened early in the morning, before employees arrived to work.
About 15 children and four policemen were also wounded in the attack, a police official told AFP. "It is a purely criminal incident," the official said, suggesting the attack was not linked to the embassy, located about 500 meters (yards) from the school.
But U.S. State Department spokesman Tom Casey said he thought it was "fairly safe to assume that the embassy was at least a potential target if not the target," when asked whether the attack was directed at the United States.
He said unknown individuals had fired three mortar rounds in the general vicinity of the U.S. embassy.
"While obviously there needs to be an investigation I think the general sense was these things were fired in the general direction of the embassy," he said.
"We also obviously condemn any acts of violence whether directed at us or anyone else."
Yemen, which joined the U.S.-led war on terrorism after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on U.S. cities, has witnessed a number of militant attacks targeting foreign tourists, oil installations and U.S. and French ships.
Dozens of militants are jailed in Yemen for involvement in bombings of Western targets and clashes with authorities. The ancestral home of Osama bin Laden is still viewed in the West as a haven for Islamic militants.