SANAA (Reuters) – Yemen stepped up security around government buildings and foreign interests on Tuesday a day after a suspected al Qaeda suicide bomber killed seven Spanish tourists and two Yemenis at a tourist spot.
President Ali Abdullah Saleh, whose country joined the U.S.-led war against terrorism after the September 11 attacks, said Yemen had received warnings last week of an impending attack but did not know where or when the militants would strike.
He offered a $75,500 reward for information leading to the capture of militants linked to the attack at the site of an ancient temple in the volatile eastern province of Marib.
“The security apparatus had information (about an attack) about four days ago but did not know exactly when or where this operation would be carried out,” Saleh told a news conference.
“Security measures were taken around sensitive sites such as oil installations but we did not think of this temple.”
Security sources told Reuters that al Qaeda issued a statement last week demanding the release of some of its members jailed in Yemen, which has been battling Islamist militants for years, and threatening to take unspecified action.
Yemen has seen several spectacular bombings in the country, widely seen in the West as a haven for Islamist militants including al Qaeda.
Witnesses in Marib said body parts were strewn around the charred and damaged vehicles used by the Spaniards. One resident said the blast was strong and heard for miles around.
DNA tests were being carried out on the remains of the suicide bomber to try to ascertain his identity, Saleh said, adding that evidence so far indicated he was a non-Yemeni Arab.
Spain was sending airplanes to Yemen to pick up the remains of the three men and four women killed the attack and to take five wounded survivors home, Yemeni and Spanish officials said. Spanish Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Bernardino Leon was also due in Yemen, the Spanish Foreign Ministry said.
Ordinary Yemenis were saddened by the attack, which one described as “really shameful” and it was likely to deal a new blow to the country’s ailing tourist sector and economy.
“This incident is a blow to the national economy and will affect tourism but should not affect investment,” Saleh said.
“I told the Interior Ministry to award 15 million riyals to whoever offers information leading to the capture of these terrorist elements or their siege or killing.”
Yemen foiled two suicide attacks on oil and gas installations in 2006, days after al Qaeda urged Muslims to target Western interests. Al Qaeda’s wing in Yemen claimed responsibility for the foiled attacks and vowed more strikes.
In 2002 militants bombed the French oil supertanker Limburg off Yemen’s coast. In 2000, a suicide attack on the U.S. warship Cole killed 17 U.S. sailors.
Scores of tourists and foreigners working in Yemen have been kidnapped over the last decade by tribesmen demanding better schools, roads and services, or the release of jailed relatives.
Most hostages were released unharmed, but in 2000 a Norwegian diplomat was killed in crossfire and in 1998 four Westerners were killed during a botched army attempt to free them from Islamic militants who had seized 16 tourists.
One of the poorest countries outside Africa, Yemen has been trying to encourage tourists put off by kidnappings and bomb attacks and boost foreign investment as its oil dwindles.