Yemen Kidnapping Missionary Activities Prompted Abduction, Investigators Believe

Officials from the Foreign Ministry in Berlin believe that the Germans kidnapped in Yemen were abducted because of their missionary activities. Local Muslims had threatened one of the group and told him to stop proselytizing -- a warning the German ignored.

The German Christians kidnapped recently in Yemen were probably the victims of an act of revenge, SPIEGEL has learned.

A church in Wolfsburg, Germany, pays tribute to the nurses Rita S. and Anita G., who are believed to have been shot by their kidnappers.

A church in Wolfsburg, Germany, pays tribute to the nurses Rita S. and Anita G., who are believed to have been shot by their kidnappers.

According to information obtained from the German Foreign Ministry's crisis task force responsible for the case, a dispute took place in Saada a few months ago related to missionary activities by one of the Germans, in the course of which angry Muslims threatened the German engineer Johannes H. and demanded that he cease his attempts at proselytizing.

Johannes H., who is from the eastern German state of Saxony, described the incident in a personal newsletter he sent to a number of friends in Germany. According to the letter, Johannes H. met a Muslim in a teahouse in the town of Saada and discussed spiritual topics with him. "I also encouraged him to read the Bible," Johannes H. wrote.

Some time later, the man's brother appeared at the hospital in Saada where Johannes H. and his wife Sabine worked and threatened to report the German to the religious authorities. The German's attempt at proselytizing, the man apparently told H., was already a subject of discussion in local mosques.

However Johannes H., who is the father of three young children, apparently paid little attention to the warning. "Pray for his faith," Johannes H. wrote to his friends in Germany, "and pray that he actually comes to have faith and accept Jesus as his Lord."

German investigators also found missionary tracts in the belongings of the two German nurses believed to have been shot by their kidnappers, Rita S. and Anita G. from Lemgo in North Rhine-Westphalia. The Germans were among a group of nine foreigners who were kidnapped on June 12 while on an outing in the countryside of Saada, a northern region of Yemen known as a haven for Shia militias as well as al-Qaida fighters. A third woman, identified as a South Korean teacher, was also murdered.

The Foreign Ministry's task force is now assuming that the Germans were known locally as missionaries. Johannes H. and his wife had prepared for their trip to Yemen with the help of an organization called Global Mission for Christ (WEC), which is based in the town of Eppstein in the state of Hesse and is a member of the German Evangelical Missions Association (AEM). According to the group's mission statement, "we see our mission mainly as the conversion of the peoples of the world who have not yet been reached."

According to the reconstruction of the abduction by German investigators of the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) and Yemeni officials, the group of foreigners, which comprised six devout Christians and three children, left the town of Saada in a Toyota SUV around 4pm on Friday June 12 to visit a doctor they knew who lived near the city. There, they drank tea before setting off again around 6pm. Witnesses report seeing the group being stopped by a number of armed men in a black Suzuki Vitara.

Around 6:45pm, one of the two young German women managed to call a German nurse, Rosa K., in Saada using her mobile phone. However the woman could not hear the caller very well and hung up. The investigators assume that the kidnappers executed three of their victims with shots to the head in a riverbed a short time later. Police later found a cartridge case next to one of the bodies.

Because of the suspected link to the Germans' missionary activities, the Foreign Ministry task force sees Islamists as the likely perpetrators. The Yemeni government initially suspected a group of Shiite rebels led by Abd al-Malik al-Houthi. The group, however, has denied any responsibility. "We are looking for both the abductors and the abductees, whose safety is our main concern," Yahya al-Houthi, the Germany-based brother of the rebel leader, told SPIEGEL. If the rebels found the perpetrators they would hand them over to the authorities, Yahya al-Houthi said.

Yemeni Interior Minister Muttahar al-Masri told reporters Saturday that the group had been warned against going on the outing which led to their kidnapping. "The authorities received the threat of an attack and there was a warning given to the Germans asking them not to travel outside their area of work," al-Masri said, according to Reuters. The interior minister also said that authorities had received a report that the six remaining hostages were still alive but could not confirm it. Yemen has offered a $275,000 (€197,000) reward for information leading to the kidnappers' arrest.

dgs -- with wire reports

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