UPDATE 3-Saudi diplomat shot dead in Yemen, al Qaeda blamed

* Attackers in a car open fire

* Al Qaeda strengthened grip on Yemen during revolt

* Saudi is a main donor to Yemen, backer of government

SANAA, Nov 28 (Reuters) - Gunmen shot dead a Saudi diplomat

and his Yemeni bodyguard in Yemen's capital Sanaa on Wednesday

in an attack a local security source said appeared to be the

work of al Qaeda.

The killing, the latest attack on security officials and

politicians in the U.S.-allied state, underscores the challenges

facing Yemen since an uprising that began last year toppled

President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Attackers in a four-wheel drive vehicle opened fire on a car

carrying Whaled al-Enizi, an aide to the Saudi military attache,

near his house in a neighbourhood of Sanaa, a Yemeni security

official said. The diplomat and his Yemeni guard died instantly.

No one has claimed responsibility but the security official

said authorities were "assuming that al Qaeda was behind it".

"If this is the case, it would be the first time al Qaeda

has used a car to carry out an assassination," he said. The

official said previously militants have used motorbikes, often

without licence plates.

AQAP, regarded as al Qaeda's strongest regional wing, has

mounted operations in Saudi Arabia and tried to launch attacks

against the United States.

Restoring stability in Yemen is an international priority

because of its strategic position adjoining not only oil

exporter Saudi Arabia but also major shipping lanes.

President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi took over as head of state

in a Gulf-brokered power-transfer deal in February, and later

Yemen's army drove Islamist fighters out of southern strongholds

in a military operation backed by the United States.

Washington has also stepped up drone strikes on suspected

militants.

A Saudi official at the Foreign Ministry in Riyadh confirmed

the Enizi's killing, the state news agency SPA said.

The Saudis are a major donor to their poor neighbour and

hosted the signing of the deal for Hadi to take power.

Hadi, in a call to Saudi Interior Minister Prince Mohammed

bin Nayef, described the attackers as "terrorists" and vowed to

bring them to justice, the state news agency Saba said.

In October, masked gunmen shot dead a Yemeni man who worked

in the security office of the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa, weeks after

Abdulilah Al-Ashwal, a senior intelligence official, was killed

in a drive-by shooting in the capital.

Islamists linked to al Qaeda are still holding the deputy

consul at the Saudi mission in the southern city of Aden, whom

they seized in March. They have demanded a ransom and the

release of women prisoners held in the kingdom.

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