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Qaeda says hit Koreans in Yemen over U.S. ties

South Korean bomb blast victim Park Jung-sun, 40, is transported by airport security and rescue workers upon her arrival from Yemen, at Incheon International Airport, west of Seoul, March 17, 2009. REUTERS/Lee Jin-man/Pool

DUBAI (Reuters) - Al Qaeda’s wing in Yemen said it carried out the suicide attack that killed four South Korean tourists this month in retaliation for their country’s ties to the U.S.-led “war on terror,” according to an Internet message.

South Korea, which once had the third-largest contingent of foreign soldiers in Iraq, withdrew all of them in December. On Friday, a Korean newspaper quoted a top government official as saying Seoul had decided to send about 1,000 mainly engineering troops to Afghanistan in response to an unofficial U.S. request.

Yemen has blamed al Qaeda for the March 15 bombing that killed the four tourists and for a failed suicide attack days later against South Korean agents investigating the blast.

Violence in Yemen has affected Western and other foreign firms developing its oil and gas sector, and attacks on foreigners including kidnappings by tribesmen have hit tourism in the poor Arab country, diplomats say.

“Our heroic brother ... Abu Obeida al-Jarrah, carried out a martyrdom-seeking operation ... in response to South Korea’s role in the war on Islam in alliance with crusader forces under the guise of a war on terror in Afghanistan and Iraq,” Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula said in a statement on Islamist sites.

The statement, whose authenticity could not be verified, said the attack on the group of South Korean tourists was also in revenge for the killing of five suspected al Qaeda-linked militants by Yemeni police in a shootout in August.

Yemen said on Wednesday authorities had arrested six suspected al Qaeda militants who were planning 12 attacks on oil installations, foreign targets and tourists in the Arab country.

The attacks on the South Koreans followed calls by leaders of al Qaeda’s regional wing to attack non-Muslim foreigners in the Arabian Peninsula, the birthplace of Islam.

Reporting by Firouz Sedarat; Editing by Louise Ireland