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Yemen reports finding bodies of 9 foreigners

NINE missing foreigners in Yemen have all turned up dead, a Yemeni official said yesterday, apparently executed by their kidnappers in the impoverished nation on the Arabian peninsula.

The nine, including seven German nationals, a Briton and a South Korean, disappeared last week while on a picnic in the restive northern Saada region of Yemen.

The official announced the discovery of the remaining six bodies yesterday after three others had been found mutilated earlier in the day.

Yemen, the poorest nation in the Middle East, is home to restive tribes, a Shiite rebellion, as well as a branch of al-Qaida which operates in its remote regions and has often targeted foreigners as well as the US embassy.

Shepherds roaming the area found the remains of three of the women in the mountainous northern Saada province near the town of el-Nashour, known as a hideout for al-Qaida militants, the official said.

In Berlin, the Foreign Ministry said it could not confirm the reports that the Germans had been killed. A spokesman said that a ministry crisis team and the German embassy in San'a were working together to try to get more details.

Yemeni authorities said the group included a German doctor, his wife and their three children, as well as a Briton and his South Korean wife and two other German nationals. They were all working in a hospital in Saada, the state news agency said.

South Korea's Foreign Ministry identified their national by her family name, Eom, and said she was a 34-year-old aid worker in Yemen.

Chantel Mortimer, press officer at the British Embassy, said the embassy was seeking information about the rest of the hostages including the Briton.

The killing of hostages is not common in Yemen, where tribesmen often kidnap foreigners to press the government on a range of demands, including a ransom, but usually release them unharmed. Kidnappings involving al-Qaida, however, have been lethal for the hostages in the past.

Yemen, the ancestral homeland of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, had long been a haven for Islamic militants and was the scene of the October 2000 suicide bombing of the USS Cole that killed 17 American sailors.

Yemen is the Arab world's poorest nation, making it a fertile territory for al-Qaida.


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