According to a Yemeni official, nine foreigners missing in Yemen, including seven Germans, a British and South Korean, have all turned up dead. Their kidnappers in the impoverished nation in the Arabian Peninsula apparently executed them. The bodies were found mutilated near Saada province in Yemen, the poorest nation in the Middle East which is home to barbaric and brutal tribes, a Shiite rebellion, as well as, an al-Qaida cell which operates in its remote regions and has often targeted foreigners as well as the US embassy.
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, said the official source. But kidnapping on behalf of al-Qaida, has turned out deadly and claimed lives of hostages in the past.
Despite pressure from the international community to safeguard visitors to Yemen, nothing has changed. Tourists and foreigners remain target for abduction in Yemen to this day. Several years ago, Scotland Yard nabbed extremist Yemeni group Jaysh Adan Abyan al-Islami, who kidnapped Western tourists in December 1998 and killed four of them. Yemeni authorities accused Abu Hamza of recruiting 10 men, including his own son, and sending them to Yemen to carry out attacks against US targets. Abu Hamza’s son was arrested and imprisoned. Abu Abdullah Al-Turki, Abu-Hamza Al-Masri’s closest assistant was thrown behind bars in Bill Marsh prison, Southwest London after being found guilty of nine crimes, including holding hostages while launching an attack on Yemen in December 1998. Abu Hamza, though, was freed for lack of evidence. Tourism came to a halt.
However, local officials announced they were seriously working on tourist security and visitor safety. They claimed Yemen has come to the forefront in the fight against terrorism after 9/11. Authorities confirmed that while the republic has been turned into a virtual battleground by militant extremists, the government fiercely fought back.
It was too late however. The tremendous impact of terrorism on Yemeni soil started taking its toll on its travel industry. Tourism plunged after the series of attacks since 1997 when a car bomb carrying 68 kilograms of TNT exploded in Aden. Tourist facilities had been badly affected as well as travel agencies, hotels, tourist-related restaurants, souvenir shops and bazaars as a result of the sharp drop in tourist numbers since 1999 following the Abyan incident in December 1998. Arrivals declined by 40 percent in 1999 from 1998.
According to the Yemeni embassy, 90 percent of bookings made with hotels and agencies were canceled; occupancies declined to a minimum 10% in numerous hotels, agencies, restaurants; many tourist transportation service closed down; foreign and Arab airliners suspended flights to the republic. There was massive lay-off in tourism companies following the sustained tailspin in the industry as a result of the attacks on the USS Cole in the port of Aden and the French oil tanker Limburg in the Al Daba port in Al-Mukala, Hadhramount.
Tourism revenues 1998 to 2001 plummeted to 54. 7 percent. Nonetheless, the World Travel and Tourism Council showed personal T&T to Yemen got stronger and business travel, with a large impact on GDP and job growth in 2004 posted significant growth over 2003. Government spending inched a few notch up, but capital investment remained stagnant.
Former president Bush commended the efforts by President Ali Abdullah Saleh in fighting terrorism in 2004. Seeing Yemen’s attempts at understanding democracy, Washington approved Yemen as an effective partner in fighting terrorism following the September 11 events – after the republic launched a campaign to quash Al-Qaida operations. Terrorist members were brought to justice.
Dr. Aat Abdel Alim, former Ambassador of Yemen to the Hague in the Netherlands said they have had a huge number of tourists coming from the West. “As you know, Yemen has been often the stage for certain terrorist acts since 2000 even before the events of September 11. Yemen had been targeted through the USS Cole, the Limburg explosion; the British Embassy and so many incidences that people think in their minds, the destruction have been the result of internal terrorism. There have been justifications by certain religious groups expressing the creation of a wall, if you will,” one of which referring to the incident in El Hadaq in the northern part of Yemen, which is also a whole world of difference.
Despite the rhetoric and the posture to bump up security, Yemen proves to be a risky destination regardless of the widely-written about Zabid being a World Heritage Site, the visual appeal of Sanaa, the country’s capital, and exotic Shibaam, sometimes referred to as ‘the Manhattan of the desert’ because of its spectacular multi-story stone dwellings. Still, nothing has changed in this killing zone.