Authorities hike reward to find kidnappers

Yemen has vowed to hunt down militants responsible for the killing of three foreign hostages earlier this week. Authorities raised the reward offered for information to $275,000 to help capture the kidnappers.


REUTERS - Yemen pledged on Tuesday to hunt down an armed group behind the killing of three foreign hostages and offered a reward of $275,000 for information leading to the capture of the kidnappers.

Three women from a party of nine kidnapped foreigners were found dead in Yemen this week in a rare killing coinciding with a rise in separatist and militant tensions in a country whose instability has alarmed Western countries and Saudi Arabia.

One analyst said the killings bore the hallmarks of al Qaeda but no claim of responsibility has been made.

"The security apparatus will continue to hunt the terrorist group which committed this crime and bring them to justice," Yemeni Foreign Minister Abubakr al-Qirbi told Reuters.

State media said the Interior Ministry added 50 million rials ($249,100) to a reward of 5 million rials offered earlier by the governor of Saada province where the nine were seized last week. Security measures were stepped up there and police were searching for the remaining hostages, media reports said.

The nine comprised seven Germans, a Briton and a Korean, according to state media, and included three children and their mother. They were kidnapped in the mountainous northern Saada region bordering Saudi Arabia.

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel condemned the killings.

"We must unfortunately assume that two of the three people found dead in Yemen were German women doing work experience. It it is very sad news," she said.

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said German experts had been sent to Yemen to help identify the victims. "At the moment the circumstances of the death of both women is unclear."

The two German women were students at a German bible school who were carrying out work experience at a hospital in Saada, the school said on its website.

"We received the news of the death of our students, Anita G. and Rita S., with deep dismay," it said.

Yemen's military said the third victim was a Korean teacher. A source told Reuters on Sunday that one of the German captives was a doctor at a hospital the other Germans were visiting.

"These people helped us and provided medical services ... We pray for the rest of the victims and hope the attackers will be punished," Hassan Mansour, a student living near the hospital, told Reuters.

Several other foreigners who worked at the hospital left on Tuesday, a Yemeni official said.

Yemeni authorities have blamed the Houthi tribal group, who belong to a Shi'ite Muslim sect, for kidnapping the nine foreigners, a charge the Houthis have denied.

If the killings were carried out by tribesmen, it would be the first time that women hostages have been their victims. Two Belgian women, however, were killed in 2008 by gunmen in an ambush authorities blamed on al Qaeda.

Yemen last week arrested a man described as al Qaeda's top financer in Yemen and Saudi Arabia. Yemen, the Arab world's poorest country, is struggling with a revolt in the north, a secessionist movement in the south and growing militancy.

The unrest has raised concerns Yemen could slip into chaos and provide a base for al Qaeda or pirates operating in the Indian Ocean.

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