Yemen still on high alert after suicide attack

Yemen remained on high alert Wednesday as security forces deployed to the capital to protect embassies, government buildings and top state officials two days after a suicide attack outside an ancient temple killed 10 people including the bomber and seven Spanish tourists.Authorities are hunting down Al Qaeda suspects and other militants in Yemen in an attempt to gather information on the attack’s plotters. Nine Islamists have been arrested so far as part of the roundup but are not considered suspects, police said.

Seven Spanish tourists were killed and six others wounded on Monday when the suicide bomber plowed his car into a convoy transporting the tourists who were visiting a temple linked to the ancient Queen of Sheba in the central province of Marib. The 13 Spaniards had gone to Yemen on June 30 to spend several weeks in the Arabian Peninsula country as part of package tour.

A Spanish Armed Forces plane on Wednesday brought home the bodies of the slain tourists and five of the injured. The sixth injured Spaniard, whose condition was reportedly serious, remained in a Yemeni hospital to undergo a second operation.

Despite the security precautions, Yemen’s parliament has lashed out at the government, accusing it of not taking adequate security measures to protect foreigners despite previous warnings by Al Qaeda that it would wage attacks against foreigners to retaliate against the detention of its members.

Yemen’s ruling National Congress lawmaker Abdullah Mougaida said Tuesday in a stormy parliament session that the police knew of an imminent attack but didn’t act to prevent it.

“They concentrated only on protecting the oil facilities and gave no attention to foreigners and tourists,” said Mougaida, a top leader of a prominent Yemeni tribe in Marib.

Yemeni security officials have said they had been warned about a possible Al Qaeda attack but did not think it would include the suicide bombing. They said Al Qaeda had warned recently it would carry out attacks against Yemeni oil facilities, government institutions and foreign embassies.

Spain has considered tourism in Yemen dangerous for some time. The foreign ministry has advised travelers that there was a risk of terrorist action and emphasised that the region of Marib, where the bombing occurred, should only be visited in the company of a local guide and a military escort.

In the aftermath of the attack, the US embassy banned its employees from leaving the capital, Sannaa, and cancelled its planned July 4 independence day celebrations. It also said it had restricted the movement of its employees within the capital.

Al Qaeda has an active presence in Yemen, the ancestral home of Osama Ben Laden, despite government efforts to fight the terror network. Al Qaeda was blamed for the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in Aden that killed 17 American sailors and the attack on a French oil tanker that killed one person two years later.

The Marib region is home to four powerful tribes with more than 70 branches and is known to be a hotbed of support for Al Qaeda.

About 100 foreigners have been kidnapped in the area since the 1990s. But in recent years, the area had grown calmer and tourists have begun travelling to Marib, which was the capital of Saba, or Sheba, the mightiest kingdom of ancient Arabia.

Monday’s was the second suspected Islamist terrorist attack to kill Spaniards in recent days. On June 24, six Spanish soldiers serving with the UN peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon were killed in a bombing.

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