/ 15 June 2009

Three German women captives killed in Yemen

Three German women from a party of nine kidnapped foreigners have been found dead in north Yemen, a government and a tribal source told Reuters on Monday, a rare killing that comes as separatist and militant tensions intensify.

The three women found near the Saada area were believed to have been shot, the two sources said, in a dramatic escalation of violence that comes one day after authorities arrested a man described as al-Qaeda’s top financer in Yemen and Saudi Arabia.

Yemeni state news agency Saba said separately that the three were part of the group of nine — seven Germans, a Briton and a Korean — kidnapped last week in the Saada area.

A second government source told Reuters the dead women were Germans, two of them nurses. One of the nurses was married to one of the German hostages.

Dubai-based security analyst Fares bin Houzam said it was possible al-Qaeda was behind the deaths. No al-Qaeda statement claiming responsibility has been published so far.

”It’s very rare for kidnappers in Yemen to kill, we have to wait to know what happened. But whoever is behind this, this is a fatal blow to security in Yemen,” he said.

Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest country, is struggling with a revolt in the north, a secessionist movement in the south and growing al-Qaeda militancy, which have unsettled Western governments and neighbouring Saudi Arabia.

Kidnappings of Western tourists or workers by tribes is fairly common in Yemen with most incidents resolved peacefully in exchange for ransom or concessions from authorities. In this case, no tribal demands were made public.

Increasing unrest has raised concerns Yemen could slip into chaos and provide a base of operations for al-Qaeda or pirates operating in the Indian ocean.

On Sunday, Yemen arrested a Saudi national, Hassan Hussein Alwan, described as al-Qaeda’s top financer in Yemen and Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter, brought under control an al-Qaeda campaign of violence launched in the kingdom in 2003, but fears are that Yemen will become the staging post for a revival of the effort to bring down the United States-allied Saudi royal family.

Yemeni authorities have blamed the Houthi tribal group for kidnapping the nine foreigners, a charge the Houthis denied.

In 2004 tribesmen in Saada led by members of the Houthi clan began an intermittent rebellion against the government in protest at what they said was economic and religious discrimination.

Yemeni tribesmen in Saada on Friday released a group of 24 doctors and nurses they abducted a day earlier, demanding the authorities release two prisoners, a government official said.

The medics, most of whom were Yemenis but also included Egyptians, Indians and Filipinos, were working at a Saudi-backed hospital in the northern Saada region. — Reuters