SANAA (AFP) – A suicide bomber on Wednesday attacked a South Korean delegation visiting Yemen after a weekend bombing that killed four of their compatriots, but there were no casualties, officials said.
“Vehicles carrying our government officials and bereaved family members came under a terrorist attack today. Nobody was harmed,” said a foreign ministry official in Seoul.
The bomber blew up his explosives belt as the delegation was driving to the airport in the Yemeni capital Sanaa, local security officials said.
A senior Yemeni security official said the security services had been alerted to a possible attack at the airport.
The South Koreans were visiting Yemen after four tourists were killed on Sunday while watching the sun set over the historic mud-brick city of Shibam in eastern Yemen. Their local guide was also killed.
Yemen has blamed the local branch of Al-Qaeda for the attack, one of a string against foreign targets in the impoverished Arabian peninsula state.
South Korea sent a four-strong investigative team to Yemen, made up of two foreign ministry officials as well as representatives of the national police and the intelligence agency. Some relatives travelled with them.
A foreign ministry official in Seoul said that the South Korean officials, relatives of the victims and Yemeni officials were travelling in three vehicles from a hotel to the airport when the attack occurred.
“An explosion erupted near the vehicles at 8:40 am (0540 GMT). Some of the car windows were shattered but no one was harmed,” the official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
“It still is unclear whether the attack targeted the South Koreans or the Yemeni officials.”
Yemeni security officials at the site said they found a piece of the bomber’s identity card, showing that he was a 20-year-old student.
“We have found his address, and the investigation will start from there,” one official said.
The attack took place as South Korean Prime Minister Han Seung Soo was visiting Jordan.
Yemen’s official Saba news agency said that a Yemeni teenager who had been “tricked by Al-Qaeda into wearing an explosives vest” carried out Sunday’s attack against the tourists.
A Yemeni news website said on Tuesday the bomber had asked for a picture with the tourists on the hill overlooking Shibam shortly before detonating his explosives belt.
The town is famous for its multi-storey mud-brick merchants’ houses, which date back to the 16th century and have earned Shibam a UNESCO world heritage listing and the nickname of the “Manhattan of the desert.”
South Korea has designated the entire country as a “travel restriction” area and strongly advised its citizens to avoid it.
The attack was the worst incident involving South Korean travellers since 2007, when 23 Christian aid workers were taken hostage by Taliban rebels in Afghanistan.
Al-Qaeda has claimed a spate of attacks in Yemen targeting tourists, foreign missions and oil installations, notably the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in the port of Aden that killed 17 sailors.
In January 2008 two Belgian tourists were shot dead with their local guide and driver in Yemen and a car bombing in Marib, east of Sanaa, in July 2007 killed eight Spanish holidaymakers and two Yemeni drivers.
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.
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.