Gunmen kill two tourists in Yemen

/ Source: The Associated Press

Gunmen believed to be al-Qaida militants opened fire on a tourist convoy in eastern Yemen on Friday, killing two Belgians and wounding four others, security officials said.

The tourists were in a convoy of at least five vehicles travelling through a desert valley called Wadi Daw'an in the eastern Hadramut region when the gunmen attacked, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.

The officials said the attackers were believed to be al-Qaida militants hiding in the valley, near the town of Hajreen, about 270 miles east of the capital, San'a.

Two Belgians were killed and four other Belgians wounded, the officials said. In Brussels, Belgian Foreign Ministry spokesman Marc Michielsen confirmed the two deaths and said one Belgian was seriously wounded. He did not have information on other possible casualties.

"They were part of a group of tourists who were on an organized visit," he said. Tourists often go through the Wadi Daw'an on route to see Shibam, a historic town of mud brick houses, some as many as nine stories high.

Al-Qaida active in Yemen
In July, a suicide bomber in an explosives-packed car attacked tourists visiting a temple linked to the ancient Queen of Sheba in central Yemen, killing eight Spaniards and two Yemenis. Yemeni authorities blamed that attack on an al-Qaida cell.

An Interior Ministry official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said that Yemeni authorities have received e-mail and telephone threats of imminent terrorist attacks over the past two days. The official said al-Qaida militants were pushing for the release of jailed comrades.

Yemen, the ancestral homeland of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, has long been a center for militant activity, and al-Qaida continues to have an active presence despite a government crackdown. Al-Qaida was blamed for the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in Aden that killed 17 American sailors and the attack on a French oil tanker that killed one person two years later.

In February 2006, 23 al-Qaida militants broke out of a prison in San'a. Six of the escapees have since been killed in clashes, and 11 recaptured.

One of those still at large, Qasim al-Raymi, has been accused by Yemeni authorities of involvement in the July suicide bombing against the Spanish tourists. Another still at large, Nasir al-Wuhayshi, was later named in a Web statement as the leader of "Al-Qaida in Yemen."

Yemen also seen turmoil from unruly tribes in lawless areas of the mountainous, impoverished country. Foreign tourists are frequently kidnapped by tribes seeking to win concessions from the government, either better services or the release of jailed relatives. Most of the hostages have been released unharmed.