SANAA (AFP) – Yemeni state media blamed Al-Qaeda on Monday for a suicide bombing that killed four South Korean holidaymakers and their local guide in the historic eastern tourism city of Shibam.
An 18-year-old who had been “tricked by Al-Qaeda into wearing an explosives vest” carried out the attack in the ancestral homeland of the militant network’s fugitive leader Osama bin Laden, the official Saba news agency said.
On a visit to the city of Shibam in the eastern Hadramawt region, Vice President Abed Rabbo Mansur Hadi called for the eradication of the those behind it, as survivors, four of them wounded, were flown home.
The survivors took a flight to Seoul on Emirates Airlines via Dubai, an official said, as a South Korean inquiry team arrived in the Yemeni capital Sanaa.
The vice president, who chaired an emergency meeting of security chiefs, said Yemen was determined to “eradicate all dubious factions who sold their souls to the devil,” Saba said.
The Yemeni tourism ministry said a fifth South Korean tourist who was wounded in the bombing had remained in the country for medical treatment.
“The explosion happened as they were gathered on a hill called Khazzan that overlooks the city,” a security official told AFP on Sunday.
“They were on foot and taking pictures of the buildings in Shibam at the moment the sun went down,” he added.
The Hadramawt town is famous for its multi-storey mud-brick merchants’ houses, which date back to the 16th Century and have earned Shibam UNESCO world heritage listing and the nickname of the “Manhattan of the desert.”
The South Korean government ordered a team of foreign ministry and security officials to travel immediately to Yemen.
“The government expresses deep condolence to the victims and the bereaved families,” ministry spokesman Moon Tae-Young said in a statement.
The ministry designated the entire country as a “travel restriction” area and strongly advised its citizens to avoid it.
“When most tourists had got off the jeep and were enjoying the sunset and the surroundings, there was suddenly a bomb explosion. In a second, a hellish situation followed,” travel agent Ma Kyong-Chan, who organised the trip, told the Yonhap news agency.
In January 2008 two Belgian tourists were shot dead with their local guide and driver in Hadramawt.
Two months later the US embassy was the target of mortar fire that missed and hit an adjacent school, killing two people.
A car bomb attack in Marib, also east of Sanaa, in July 2007 killed eight Spanish holidaymakers and two Yemeni drivers.
That attack took place at the entrance to Mahram Bilqis, an ancient oval-shaped temple that legend says belonged to the Biblical Queen of Sheba.
In January, Al-Qaeda announced in a video message posted on the Internet the merging of the Saudi and Yemeni branches into “Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula,” led by a Yemeni called Nasser al-Wahaishi.
Al-Qaeda has carried out a string of attacks in Yemen — notably the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in the port of Aden that killed 17 sailors.
The US embassy in the capital was targeted last September by a double car bombing claimed by Al-Qaeda that killed 19 people, including seven attackers.
Some Western embassies are now concealed behind five-metre-high (16-foot) blast walls, and some diplomats have said they believe there is an influx of militants into Yemen.
Few tourists visit Yemen, which also has a history of abductions of Westerners by powerful tribes who then use them as bargaining chips with the authorities. Those kidnapped are generally freed unharmed.