3 foreign hostages killed in Yemen; toll may rise to 9
Tribal leader places blame on Al Qaeda
SAN'A, Yemen - At least three kidnapped foreigners have been killed in a remote Yemeni province, and security officials in the capital reported yesterday that another six were also dead. The slayings took place in a region where Al Qaeda militants have a strong presence.
There was confusion among Yemeni officials over the toll. Local officials in the northern Saada province where the nine foreigners were kidnapped confirmed only that the bodies of three women in the group were found. The Saada provincial council said the fate of the remaining six was unknown.
But Yemeni security officials in the capital, San'a, said the bodies of the other six were also found. The contradictory reports could not immediately be reconciled.
Still, it was a rare slaying of foreign hostages and could be a sign of brutal new tactics by Al Qaeda in Yemen, the Middle East's poorest nation and one of its most unstable. Al Qaeda has been strengthening in Yemen, taking advantage of the government's weak control in a nation where tribes hold sway over much of the countryside.
The nine foreigners - seven Germans, a Briton, and a South Korean - disappeared last week while on a picnic in the restive northern Saada region of Yemen. The Germans included a couple and their three children.
The Yemen government said in a statement that they all worked for World Wide Services foundation, a Dutch aid group working in the medical sector in Saada Province for the past 30 years.
Shepherds found the remains of three women from the group yesterday morning in the mountainous northern Saada province near the town of el-Nashour, known as a hideout for Al Qaeda militants, according to a statement from the local council in the area.
"The fate of the other six abducted people is still unknown," it said.
A security official in the capital, however, said the other six had been found dead. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to reporters.
A tribal leader in the area blamed Al Qaeda for the kidnapping of the foreigners on Friday and for their slaying. He also spoke on condition of anonymity for the same reason.
In the past, tribesmen often kidnapped foreigners to wrest concessions on local issues from the government - including ransoms, the release of jailed relatives, or even promises to build local infrastructure. But they usually treated hostages well and released them unharmed. Past abductions by Al Qaeda, however, have ended with hostages' deaths.
Al Qaeda's presence has strengthened over the past year. Al Qaeda militants, including fighters returning from Afghanistan and Iraq, have established sanctuaries among a number of Yemeni tribes, particularly ones in three provinces bordering Saudi Arabia.
In Berlin, the Foreign Ministry said it could not confirm the reports that the Germans had been killed. A spokesman, speaking on customary condition of anonymity, said that a ministry crisis team and the German embassy in San'a were working together to try and get more details.
South Korea's Foreign Ministry identified their national by her family name and said she is a 34-year-old aid worker in Yemen, but would not confirm her death.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Moon Tae-young said she was part of a team of the Dutch-based medical aid agency Worldwide Service.
Chantel Mortimer, the press officer at the British Embassy, expressed concern and said that the embassy is seeking information about the rest of the hostages including the British one.
"We are very concerned that bodies were found. We are seeking further details," she said.
In January, militants announced the creation of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a merger between the terror network's Yemeni and Saudi branches.