CAIRO — The bodies of at least three foreign captives, including two German nurses and a South Korean teacher, were found in a mountainous haven for rebels and Islamic militants in northwestern Yemen, the official government news agency said Monday.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the women's slayings, but Yemeni officials had blamed the kidnappings on a Shiite Muslim sect seeking to overthrow the majority Sunni government. The group denied any role in the attack, and there were suggestions that Al Qaeda militants might have been involved. Kidnappings are common in Yemen, but the killing of hostages has been rare.
The Yemeni Interior Ministry reported over the weekend that nine foreigners were abducted Friday while picnicking near the northern town of Sadah. They were described as seven Germans, including a doctor, his wife and three children, a British engineer and a South Korean teacher. The six adults were based at a hospital in Sadah, where foreign doctors and nurses have worked for more than 30 years.
There were conflicting reports Monday about whether children were among the dead. Some accounts, citing unnamed government security officials and local tribesmen, said police had recovered seven to nine bodies. Three, with gunshot wounds and signs of mutilation, were found by shepherds and others, according to varying accounts. According to some accounts, two children were found alive.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday, November 04, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 National Desk 1 inches; 47 words Type of Material: Correction
Yemen attacks: An article in Section A on June 16 about Islamic extremists' attacks on foreigners reported that no Americans died in an attack outside the U.S. Embassy in Sana, the capital of Yemen, on Sept. 17, 2008. A teenager from Lackawanna, N.Y., was among those killed.
The British and German embassies could not immediately confirm the deaths. South Korea identified its missing citizen as a 34-year-old woman.
"We are aware of these reports. We are looking into them," said German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The Yemeni government faces resistance on several fronts: Sunni extremists backed by Al Qaeda; a secessionist movement in the south; and a Shiite sect, known as Houthis, in the northwest that has been rebelling since 2004. The discovery of the bodies came a day after authorities announced the arrest of Hassan Hussein bin Alwan, a Saudi national accused of financing Al Qaeda activities in Yemen and Saudi Arabia.
Yemen's stability has become a growing concern for its neighbor Saudi Arabia and the United States. This year, militant groups in Yemen and Saudi Arabia announced they had consolidated under the leadership of Naser Abdel-Karim Wahishi, a former confidant of Osama bin Laden. Islamic extremists have carried out a number of attacks on foreigners, including twin car bombings in September that killed six Yemeni guards and four foreigners, none American, outside the U.S. Embassy in Sana, the capital.
In March, a suicide bomber killed four South Korean tourists in the ancient city of Shibam.
The atmosphere for foreigners -- 200 have been kidnapped in the last 15 years -- is made more perilous by criminal gangs and tribes seeking ransoms. Most hostages have been freed unharmed; tribesmen around Sadah released 24 doctors and nurses Friday. But in recent months, the U.S. and other Western governments have warned of the targeting of foreigners and increasing violence in Yemen, the Arab world's poorest nation.