Yemen hunts kidnappers after at least three foreigners die
At least two Germans and a South Korean have been killed after being kidnapped in northern Yemen.Sanaa -- Security forces pressed on with a sweep of northern Yemen on Tuesday after the discovery of the bodies of three foreign women, with the fate of six other foreign kidnap victims still unknown.
"The security forces are continuing a huge search operation in Saada province to track down the kidnappers of the nine foreign nationals," an interior ministry official told AFP.
On Monday, the ministry said at least three women -- two Germans and a South Korean -- had been killed. Their bodies were found in the province's Noshour region.
This is the first time in more than a decade of kidnappings in Yemen, which has almost always resulted in hostages being freed, that those seized have been known to be murdered.
"Preparations are underway for the transfer to Sanaa of the bodies of the two Germans and the South Korean ahead of their repatriation," Ali al-Qatabri, the director of Saada's Al-Jumhuriya hospital, told AFP.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said the government has to assume that two of the bodies are those of German women who were kidnapped.
"We unfortunately have to assume that two German women who had been missing are among the dead," he said in Berlin.
Steinmeier added that German forensics experts had been sent to Yemen to examine the bodies and determine cause of death.
He said he had no news on the other hostages but believed they were being held by an "unscrupulous violent group."
The governor of Saada announced a 5-million-rial (25,000 dollar) reward for information about the identity of the kidnappers.
Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters: "Naturally we condemn this act in the strongest possible terms."
The Brake bible school in Lemgo, Germany said the two women were third-year students who had been doing work experience for the Worldwide Services relief group at a hospital in Saada since the start of June.
It named them as Anita G, 24, and Rita S, 25, and said it had lost "two engaged students who, with their love for God and for people, were examples."
They were among seven Germans, including three children and two female nurses, abducted last week in volatile Saada province along with a male British engineer and a woman from South Korea.
On Monday, one local official had put the number of dead at seven, adding that two of the children had reportedly been found alive.
The missing nine worked for Worldwide Services, which has been operating for 35 years at a hospital in Saada, which borders Saudi Arabia, according to Yemeni officials.
South Korea on Tuesday confirmed that one of its citizens has been murdered.
"The government expresses anger and shock over the confirmed killing of our citizen ... and seriously condemns this," the foreign ministry said.
South Korean media reports and officials gave the woman's name as Eom Young-Sun, 34.
A report in Tuesday's edition of Sueddeutsche Zeitung said German intelligence services believed all nine hostages had been killed by Al Qaeda but did not substantiate its claims.
Local sources said the group was a Baptist organisation that also has a medical team in the hospital at Jebla, south of Sanaa, where an Islamist militant killed three American doctors in December 2002.
Foreigners are often kidnapped in Yemen by tribesmen to use as bargaining chips with the government over local disputes. More than 200 foreigners have been abducted over the past 15 years.
All have previously been freed unharmed, except for three Britons and an Australian seized by Islamist militants in December 1998 who were killed when security forces stormed the kidnappers' hideout. It is not known how they died.
A Norwegian diplomat was killed in a gunfight between the police and his abductors in June 2000.
In March of this year, four South Korean visitors to Yemen were killed in a suicide bombing at a historic tourist site that was claimed by Al Qaeda.
Seoul urged its citizens to leave the country after that attack.