SANAA (Reuters) - Yemen said seven Spanish tourists and two Yemenis were killed in a suspected al Qaeda suicide car bomb attack on their convoy in the province of Marib on Monday.
Six Spanish tourists were wounded in the attack and were taken to hospitals in Sanaa and Marib, about 95 miles east of the capital, the official Saba news agency quoted an Interior Ministry source as saying.
“Preliminary information indicates that al Qaeda is behind this cowardly terrorist attack,” the source said.
The bomber targeted the tourists after their vehicles left a temple in Marib at about 5:30 p.m. (10:30 EDT), the source said.
Two of their Yemeni drivers and tourist guides were killed and two were wounded.
“The security bodies will spare no effort to track down the terrorist elements behind this criminal act and present them to justice for a deterring punishment,” the source said.
Security sources told Reuters earlier the attack followed an al Qaeda statement last week demanding the release of some of its members jailed in Yemen and warned of unspecified actions.
Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos said the tourists were accompanied by Yemeni security personnel when the suicide bomber rammed his vehicle into their convoy as they left the Queen of Sheba Temple.
“The convoy they were traveling in was made up of four vehicles with Yemeni security ahead of and behind them,” he told reporters.
“A suicide car drove into the two central vehicles causing the death of seven tourists and injuring another six, one of them seriously.”
Residents said body parts were strewn around the charred and damaged vehicles used by the Spaniards. One resident said the blast was very strong and had been heard miles away.
Security measures around foreign interests and tourist sites were intensified after the attack, one security source said. Another said the bomber might be one of 13 convicted al Qaeda members who escaped from prison in 2006.
Yemen is the ancestral home of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. It joined the U.S.-led war on terrorism launched after the September 11 attacks on the United States and has been battling Islamic militants for years.
The security sources said al Qaeda also demanded that Sanaa reconsider its cooperation with Washington.
In March a French student and a Yemeni man were killed and another Frenchman was wounded when Shi’ite rebels attacked an Islamic college in a volatile area in northern Yemen. The rebels are not linked to al Qaeda.
Yemen foiled two suicide attacks on oil and gas installations in 2006, days after al Qaeda urged Muslims to target Western interests, especially oil installations.
Al Qaeda’s wing in Yemen claimed responsibility for the foiled attacks and vowed more strikes.
In 2002 militants bombed the French oil supertanker Limburg off Yemen’s coast. In 2000, a suicide attack on the U.S. warship Cole killed 17 U.S. sailors.
Yemen, on the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, has been widely seen in the West as a haven for Muslim militants, including al Qaeda supporters.
Scores of tourists and foreigners working in Yemen have been kidnapped over the last decade by tribesmen demanding better schools, roads and services, or the release of jailed relatives.
Most hostages were released unharmed, but in 2000 a Norwegian diplomat was killed in crossfire and in 1998 four Westerners were killed during a botched army attempt to free them from Islamic militants who had seized 16 tourists.
Additional reporting by Raquel Castillo and Emma Pinedo in Madrid