SANA'A// Yemen's interior minister, Mutahr Rashad al Masri, yesterday described the kidnapping of nine foreigners and the killing of three of them in the northern province of Sa'ada as a "well-organised terrorist act ... meant to damage the reputation of the country". During a press conference in the capital, Sana'a, he repeated the government's accusation that al Houthi Shiite rebels were behind the crimes but did say the government was considering all possibilities. "All the indicators we have demonstrate the al Houthi rebels are behind this operation - the cars used by the kidnappers and the hostages passed through Gharaz area and went through their areas," he said.
"The bodies of the murdered [hostages] were found in their area. Al Houthis have a slogan which they chant everywhere: 'Death to America. Death to Israel'. This instigates hatred to everything that is American and western. They have generated a culture of death. "Who is the beneficiary of such a terrorist act? They are the Houthis, who want to damage Yemen's image. However, I do not dismiss any option. All possibilities remain open ? I am sure if al Houthis are not the perpetrators, they must have provided some support for the kidnappers."
Al Houthis, who have been fighting against the government troops in Sa'ada since 2004, have denied the accusation, describing it as a "political intrigue" meant to justify another attack against them. Mr al Masri dismissed the possibility that the Christian missionary background of the hostages could be a reason behind their abduction. "The reason behind this crime is terrorism and they [hostages] have been there for several years, working in the hospital and providing their services to all people without any problem," he said.
Mr al Masri said the nine foreigners were warned five days before their abduction not to go out of the city of Sa'ada without an escort, but that is what they did. The hostages included seven Germans, a British engineer and a North Korean teacher. Authorities found three of their bodies last week - two Germans and the North Korean - dumped in Nushoor Valley, east of Sa'ada city. The hostages worked for the World Wide Services Foundation, a Dutch relief group that has been operating in Sa'ada for 30 years.
The remaining hostages include a German doctor and his wife, their three children and a British engineer. "We have not found any of the bodies of the remaining six hostages. The possibility is that they are still alive," Mr al Masri said. He said the kidnappings had been well planned but he was "confident those criminals will not go unpunished". Mr al Masri said antiterrorism task forces supported by helicopters are searching Sa'ada and neighbouring provinces and that law-enforcement teams from Germany, Britain and South Korea were working with their Yemeni counterparts.
The government's charges and al Houthis' denials, according to a diplomat in Sana'a who requested anonymity, are hampering the search operation. "Both sides are controlling the region and they should support the investigation teams instead of accusing each other," the diplomat said. email@example.com