Various media report up to nine have been killed, marking a significant departure from abductions in Yemen in recent years.
Hostages found killed in Yemen
SANA'A // Three hostages abducted on Friday, possibly by Shiite rebels, were found murdered in the northern Yemen province of Sa'ada yesterday, a member of parliament said, as various media reported that up to all nine may have been killed. "Child shepherds grazing farm animals found corpses of three of the foreign hostages. They informed their parents who reported them to police who came and took them," said Sheikh Othman Mujali, a member of the Yemeni parliament from Sa'ada.
The group of nine foreigners, which include seven German nationals, a British engineer and a female South Korean teacher, belonging to an international relief group had been working at Al Jumhuri hospital in Sa'ada, Mr Mujali said. The killings marked a significant departure from the stream of abductions that have occurred in Yemen in recent years, only a few of which resulted in injury. "This is an unprecedented incident in which kidnappers kill their hostages in Yemen. This is so serious and demonstrates the country is moving to a critical stage," Saeed Obaid al Jamhi, the author of Al Qa'eda: Establishment, Ideological Background and Contiguity, said.
Government officials and analysts accused rebels tied to the al Houthi movement, who have been fighting against the government since 2004, of the kidnappings and apparent murders. "The bodies of the murdered hostages were found some kilometres away from the asphalted road to the east of [Sa'ada] town and were killed with guns and daggers," Mr Mujalai said. "They were killed by unidentified members of al Houthi."
The website 26 September of the army quoted an identified local authority official as saying: "The criminals behind such a crime that shocked all the people of Sa'ada and Yemen at large will not pass unchecked and its perpetrators will face justice." Yesterday, Mutahar al Masri, Yemen's interior minister, also accused al Houthis of kidnapping the nine foreign nationals. "I do not dismiss the possibility of involvement by al Houthis in this incident, for this is an area of their influence and control and because al Qa'eda is not so frustrated to resort to such operations," said Mr al Jamhi.
"Al Qa'eda does not have a strong presence in Sa'ada and carrying out such a big operation requires a presence. "Al Qa'eda is calm at the moment, and they have other options still, such as suicide bombing, to play against the government." As a result, he said, the killings may mark an ominous turn for the rebel movement. "This is really confusing and will embroil the country into the turmoil of a new way of confrontations," he said.
A spokesman for the rebel leader, Abdulmalik al Houthi, denied any involvement in the incident. "We strongly condemn the kidnapping and murder of these foreigners who have lived here in Sa'ada during the six-year long fight between us and the authorities without any problems. "These foreigners have become a part of the community here," Mr al Houthi's spokesman, Mohammed Abdulsalam, said. "We hold the government accountable for the kidnapping and killing of the hostages who were kidnapped from an area that is completely under the control of the authorities.
"We cannot blame anybody for this incident but we are carrying our own investigations and we will announce what comes up. We think the purpose of accusing us is that the government is trying to find a reason to justify its next attack against us," he said. More than 220 abductions were reported countrywide between 1993 and 2009, according to government figures. The last reported kidnapping of westerners took place in March, when a Dutch couple was taken hostage by tribesmen in Sana'a, who blackmailed the government into releasing jailed relatives.
Most hostages have been freed unharmed, but in 2000 a Norwegian diplomat was killed in crossfire, and in 1998 four westerners were killed during a botched army attempt to free them from militants who had seized 16 tourists.