SANAA (Reuters) - Gunmen on a motorcycle killed two Belarussian military instructors in Sanaa on Tuesday, police and defense ministry sources said, in a shooting similar to other attacks the Yemeni authorities have blamed on al Qaeda.
The sources said the experts, attached to a presidential security force, were shot as they left a hotel where they had lived for nearly a year near the president’s office in southern Sanaa.
Witnesses said one of the men had died instantly and the other had been taken to hospital. The police source, who had initially identified the pair as Russians, said the wounded man had died in hospital.
A Russian embassy official in Sanaa said by telephone that the victims were citizens of Belarus and that one had been killed and one wounded. The official, who asked not to be named, said the Belarussians were in Yemen under a private contact, but declined to give details.
The Belarussian Foreign Ministry said it was checking the reports but could not confirm the victims were Belarussian.
It was not immediately clear who carried out the shooting or why. Citizens of countries in the former Soviet Union are not previously known to have been targets for Yemen’s al Qaeda branch or other Islamist militant groups.
Violence is common in Yemen, where an interim government is grappling with southern secessionists, al Qaeda-linked militants and northern Houthi rebels, as well as severe economic problems inherited from veteran President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Saleh formally stepped down in February 2012 under a Gulf-brokered deal backed by the West after months of unrest had pushed the impoverished nation to the brink of civil war.
The United States and Saudi Arabia share concerns over al Qaeda’s presence in Yemen, where Riyadh also accuses Iran of helping the Houthi Shi’ite rebels near its southern border.
Yemeni governments under Saleh and his successor President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi have allowed the United States to carry out many drone strikes against suspected al Qaeda militants.
On Monday, the Interior Ministry said at least 12 militants were killed in an air strike in southern Yemen this week.
The authorities have routinely blamed al Qaeda for a rising number of attacks targeting senior Yemeni military and security officers and some foreigners in the last few months.
On Tuesday, a colonel at the Yemeni police academy was killed in a drive-by shooting in Sanaa, police sources said.
On Friday, gunmen on a motorcycle killed a Houthi member of parliament outside a Sanaa mosque. Thousands of mourners marched at his funeral in the capital on Tuesday before his body was flown back for burial in the northern Houthi-held city of Saada.
Battles between Houthis and Sunni Salafis based in the town of Dammaj have killed more than 100 people since last month.
A Salafi spokesman said on Tuesday that a Houthi sniper had killed the 16-year-old son of Sheikh Yehya al-Hojouri, head of the Dar al-Hadith school at the centre of the Dammaj fighting.
In other attacks on foreigners, gunmen shot dead a German security guard who worked at the German embassy in Sanaa as he was leaving a supermarket in the city in October.
A year earlier, two masked men on a motorcycle shot dead Brigadier General Khaled al-Hashemi, an Iraqi army officer who worked as a consultant at the Ministry of Defense.
Reporting by Mohamemd Ghobari in Sanaa, additional reporting by Steve Gutterman in Moscow; writing by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Alistair Lyon