Two Belgian tourists shot dead in Yemen

Sanaa (ANTARA News) – Two female Belgian tourists were among four people killed, and four more Belgians were wounded, when gunmen opened fire on them in Yemen`s Hadramut province on Friday, a local official told AFP.

Provincial Governor Taha Hajir blamed the local branch of Al-Qaeda for the attack, in which the tourists` Yemeni guide and driver were also killed.

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The attackers were said to have targetted the group in the eastern province`s Do`an Valley, before fleeing the scene in a car.

The group was travelling to the close-by city of Shibam, which lies around 450 kilometres (280 miles) east of the Yemeni capital, Sanaa.

The 16th century city is a UNESCO World Heritage site and has been dubbed the “Manhattan of the Desert” for its distinctive, tower-like structures.

Last July, seven Spanish tourists and two local drivers were killed when a suicide bomber rammed his explosives-laden car into their convoy at an ancient temple in Yemen. Six Spaniards, two Yemeni drivers and four police guards escorting them were wounded.

That bombing was the worst attack against Westerners in the Arabian peninsula country since Al-Qaeda extremists struck the USS Cole off the southern port of Aden in 2000, killing 17 US sailors.

Al-Qaeda has been blamed for a series of attacks in Yemen, the ancestral homeland of its leader, Osama bin Laden. Some of them predated the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States.

Yemen announced in December that it had foiled an Al-Qaeda suicide attack in the country and captured two members of a terrorist cell in Sanaa. It said they were wanted in connection with a number of security cases.

The Yemeni branch of Al-Qaeda recently announced in an internet statement that it would carry out operations to free imprisoned members of its group held in the country.

The killing of tourists in Yemen is rare, but foreigners are frequently seized by powerful tribes for use as bargaining chips in disputes with the central government. More than 200 have been abducted during the past 15 years.

All have been freed unharmed except for three Britons and an Australian seized by Islamist militants in December 1998. They were killed when security forces stormed the kidnappers` hideout. (*)