Mohammed al-Qadhi/AP
A Yemeni soldier and a health worker carry one of three retrieved bodies of slain
kidnapped foreigners off a military helicopter in San'a, Yemen.

Foreign Hostage Deaths in Yemen Draw Attention to Terrorist Haven

June 16, 2009 07:30 PM
by Liz Colville
The number of foreign hostages killed is still unknown, but al-Qaida is suspected after a prominent Yemeni rebel group condemned the killings.

“Unprecedented” Event as Hostages Are Presumed Killed

The Associated Press reported that at least three foreigners have been killed in the remote Sa’adah province of Yemen “where al-Qaida militants have a strong presence.” But there is “confusion among Yemeni officials over the toll.”

Nine foreigners were kidnapped last week, and the bodies of three women were found, according to the AP. Reports from the Yemeni capital, San’a, indicate that the six other bodies have also been recovered.

The women’s bodies were discovered by shepherds on June 15. They disappeared last week.

All adult hostages had been working in a hospital in the Sa’adah province. According to the Yemen Observer, gunmen kidnapped “a German engineer working in the hospital, along with his wife and their three children, two girls and a boy.” The other victims were “[t]wo German nurses, a British engineer and Korean woman who was working as teacher for the children of the foreigners.”

Kidnappings are common in Yemen, but these killings were viewed as “unprecedented” as Mohammed al-Qadhi, a journalist for Yemen’s newspaper The National, put it to Al Jazeera.

Al-Qadhi explained that the Yemeni government has put the blame on a rebel group led by Abdul-Malik al-Houthi, which has been fighting the government for several years. But speaking to al-Qadhi, a spokesman for that group said it was not responsible and condemned the killings.

“A tribal leader in the area put the blame on al-Qaeda,” Al Jazeera added.

Historical Context: Yemen becomes an al-Qaida haven

Yemen is the Middle East’s poorest country and is largely controlled by tribes. Hostage situations are common, but typically hostages are held “to press the government on a range of demands, including a ransom,” the AP explained, and then are usually released. The AP speculated that the killings could be a sign that al-Qaida is ramping up its tactics.

The country gained notice as an al-Qaida outpost in 2000, when an attack on the USS Cole killed 17 Americans and was “subsequently blamed on Al-Qaeda,” according to a BBC timeline of key events in Yemen’s history.

Qwidget is loading...
Yemen was officially formed in 1990 when the northern Yemen Arab Republic (YAR) joined with the southern People's Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY) to become the United Republic of Yemen. YAR President Ali Abdallah Saleh became president of the country and remains in power today.

But there has been political unrest in Yemen since then. Armies from the north and south regions “failed to integrate” and in May 1994, they met at the former border between the two sides. Saleh declared a state of emergency as Vice President Ali Salim al-Baid, representing the south, attempted to secede. In response, northern forces took over the south and southern leaders fled the country. They were “sentenced to death in absentia,” the BBC explained.

Background: Violence continues amid anti-terrorism efforts

President Saleh met with President George W. Bush in Washington in 2001 and declared Yemen “a partner in the fight against terrorism.” The next year, Yemen “expel[ed] more than 100 foreign Islamic scholars, including British and French nationals,” the BBC reported.

Cleric Hussein al-Houthi then emerged as a rebel leader. Between 2004 and 2008, hundreds were killed as government forces tried to quash al-Houthi supporters in a series of violent outbreaks. Al-Houthi was killed by government forces in 2004, the BBC reported, but his brother, Abdul-Malik, took up his cause and support continues. Meanwhile, in 2006, President Saleh won another term.

Over the past couple of years, there has been a spate of suicide bombings, bombings of “police, official, diplomatic, foreign business and tourism targets,” tribal violence, clashes between the north and south over unfair representation, and anti-government demonstrations, according to the BBC. Many of the bombings have been attributed to a “terror network,” The Christian Science Monitor reported.

U.S. intelligence officials reported earlier in June that al-Qaida operatives were “heading for Somalia and Yemen,” CNN reported. The move appears to be a response to successful U.S. drone attacks along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

But Yemen is “combating the rise of radicalism,” The Christian Science Monitor reported. In 2002, Shawki al-Qadhi, an Islamic spiritual leader, created the Imam Democracy Training Program, “an effort to teach ideas like human rights, women's rights, and political participation to Yemen's clergymen.” The Yemeni government recently proposed rehabilitation of Yemeni Guantanamo detainees, but the U.S. has expressed skepticism about “Yemen’s ability to reintegrate them,” according to The Christian Science Monitor.

Reference: Yemen country profile


Most Recent Beyond The Headlines