Kidnapping Drama Unfolds Hostages Reportedly Found Dead in Yemen

Yemen officials are claiming at least three German women have been discovered dead after the kidnapping of a group of nine people. An AP report claims the whole group has been killed in the kidnapping-plagued country, and German officials are trying to obtain more information.

Three German women who were among a group of nine foreigners kidnapped in Yemen last Friday are reported to have been killed, in what seems like a violent conclusion to another hostage drama in the poor and unstable Arab country.

Officials found the bodies of the three foreigners in northern Yemen, local government and security sources told Western news agencies on Monday. A high-ranking official in the Yemeni Interior Ministry told Germany's DPA news agency that the bodies were found in the Saada province and that the women had been shot. A local security official, meanwhile, told the Associated Press that the bodies had been mutilated.

Meanwhile, AP reported on Monday that a Yemeni security official had said that the other six hostages, including three children, had now also been found dead.

The Yemeni capital San'a.

The Yemeni capital San'a.

The German Foreign Ministry has so far not been able to confirm the deaths of any German nationals in Yemen. "We are aware of these reports, we are looking into them," Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Monday. A crisis team and the German embassy in Yemen are now working together to try to establish more details.

The Yemeni state news agency Saba reported separately that the three were part of a group of nine people, including seven Germans, a Briton and a South Korean -- seized last week on an outing north of the capital San'a. They were reported to be working in a hospital in Saada. South Korea has confirmed that a 34-year-old South Korean aid worker is one of those abducted.

Over the past 15 years more than 200 foreigners have been kidnapped in Yemen but violence is rare, with the tribesmen usually handing over their captives in return for ransoms or government concessions. On Friday, for example, Yemeni tribesmen released a group of 24 doctors and nurses they had abducted the day before after tribal mediation.

The mud walled old city of San'a is one of the oldest in the world. Yemen, however, has been plagued by kidnappings in the past 15 years.

The mud walled old city of San'a is one of the oldest in the world. Yemen, however, has been plagued by kidnappings in the past 15 years.

The Yemeni government has blamed a local rebel group led by Abdel Malak al-Hawthi for the kidnapping, but the group has denied responsibility in a statement. The Hawthi group has led an intermittent Shiite rebellion against the government since 2004. Thousands of people have been killed in the Saada province, which lies near the border with Saudi Arabia; and although the rebels negotiated a fragile cease-fire with the government last year tensions remain.

Guido Steinberg, a terrorism expert with the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), a Berlin-based think tank, warns against coming to hasty conclusions. "First, the Hawthi rebels have never been responsible for kidnapping foreign hostages up until now, and secondly, it obviously suits the Yemeni government to present their opponents -- the Hawthi rebels -- as terrorists," he told SPIEGEL ONLINE.

The reports that the hostages have been killed only added to Steinberg's skepticism. "The execution of hostages is not part of the Hawthi rebels' repertoire. They are not Islamists or jihadists," he says. "Instead they can best be described as insurgents, who have comprehensible goals, such as defending themselves against the government tolerated spread of Sunni Salafists or against discrimination." Steinberg adds that attacks on Germans are also unlikely because the brother of one of the Hawthi group's religious leaders lives in exile in Berlin.

Who, if not the insurgents, could be behind such an act of violence? A tribal leader in the area, speaking to AP on the condition of anonymity, blamed al-Qaida for the abduction and alleged killing. Yemen, the world's poorest Arab country, is suffering political instability which has allowed it to become something of a haven for al-Qaida militants.

If confirmed, the murders of the hostages would mark a dramatic escalation of violence in Yemen, coming just a day after the authorities in Yemen arrested Hassan Hussein Bin Alwan, al-Qaida's top financier in Yemen and Saudi Arabia.

smd -- with wire reports


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