January 20, 2008 / 3:20 PM / 10 years ago

Yemen detains Qaeda suspects after tourist attack

3 Min Read

SANAA (Reuters) - Yemen detained dozens of suspected al Qaeda supporters on Sunday, following the killing of two Belgian tourists and their Yemeni drivers in the east of the impoverished country, an official said.

Friday's attack came less than a week after al Qaeda's wing in Yemen vowed to carry out unspecified operations to win the release of jailed Islamic militants.

Yemeni officials have not ruled out al Qaeda involvement in the shooting and are searching for the attackers though no one has claimed responsibility for the shooting near Shibam, famous for its old towers, in the Hadramout region.

The arrests were made in Hadramout and the nearby Maarib and Shebwa areas.

The bodies of the two Belgian women were sent home late on Saturday for burial, the official said.

In July, a suicide bombing killed seven Spanish tourists and wounded six at the Queen of Sheba Temple.

Yemen, which joined the U.S.-led war on terrorism after al Qaeda's September 11, 2001 attacks on U.S. cities, has often been the site of militant attacks and kidnappings by disgruntled tribesmen.

The ancestral home of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, Yemen is viewed in the West as a haven for Islamic militants.

In an Internet posting last week, al Qaeda's wing in Yemen vowed to free its prisoners from the country's jails and retaliate for the killings of militants by the government. Officials said last year that July's attack had been preceded by an al Qaeda demand for the release of jailed comrades.

Dozens of al Qaeda militants are serving jail terms in the country on the Arabian Peninsula for involvement in bombings of Western targets and clashes with the authorities.

One of the poorest countries outside Africa, Yemen has been trying to attract tourists put off by kidnappings and bomb attacks and boost foreign investment as its oil dwindles.

Yemeni Tourism Minister Nabil Hasan al-Faqih told the state news agency Saba that the attack had not prompted any cancellations by tour groups, though tour operators said it was bad for business.

Reporting by Mohammed Sudam, Writing by Lin Noueihed

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