Hani Mohammed / AP
Yemeni soldiers stand guard in front of the Iranian ambassador's residence in Sanaa, Yemen, on Saturday.
SANAA, Yemen -- An Iranian diplomat was killed Saturday when he resisted gunmen who were trying to kidnap him near the ambassador's residence, the Iranian Foreign Ministry and Yemeni security sources said.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham told Fars News Agency the diplomat was seriously injured when he resisted his attackers and was taken to a Sanaa hospital, where he died.
"We are seriously following up the dimensions of this terrorist action with the relevant Yemeni government officials,'' Afkham said.
Afkham did not identify the envoy, but the Associated Press reported that Iranian state television identified him as Ali Asghar Asadi, Iran's economic attache in Yemen, and said he had been "martyred."
Security sources in Yemen told Reuters the diplomat was travelling in a car belonging to the Iranian Embassy, but the ambassador was not in the car at the time of the attack.
The gunmen fled, and there was no immediate claim of responsibility, they said.
Kidnapping of foreigners in Yemen is common, often carried out by disgruntled tribesmen seeking to press the government to free jailed relatives or to improve public services, or by Islamist militants linked to al Qaeda.
But Iran is the leading Shiite Muslim power in the Middle East, and its diplomatic missions in the Arab world have occasionally been targeted as sectarian violence spreads in the region.
Sectarian rivalry between Shiite Muslim Houthis and ultra-conservative Sunni Salafis has increased in northern Yemen in the last several months, with at least 210 people killed.
The sectarian rivalry has cast a shadow over reconciliation efforts in Yemen, a U.S. ally that is home to one of the most active wings of the Sunni militant force al Qaeda.
The country, in turmoil since a popular uprising ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh in 2011, is also facing southern secessionists and an economic crisis.