Nine foreigners kidnapped in Yemen

Nine foreigners, including three children, have been kidnapped in northern Yemen, the BBC reported.

The foreigners were having a picnic when they were taken on Friday by the Huthi Zaidi, a Shia rebel group. The victims include a British and a Korean citizen. The rest of the group, including the children, are German. The adults were working in a local hospital as part of an international aid effort.

Kidnapping of foreigners is common in Yemen, with more than 200 abductions in the past 15 years. Kidnappings of Yemenis is even more common but rarely makes it into the international media. The kidnappings are generally the work of bandits demanding ransom or local tribesmen seeking political gain. This act by an armed rebel group may herald a new phase in a growing problem.

The Zaidi are a Shia sect and make up 30% of the mostly Sunni country. The two groups have a long tradition of mutual tolerance in Yemen, but in recent years that has soured with the rise of a faction within the Zaidi community that wants to overthrow the government. The present government itself overthrew a Zaidi government in 1962. An article in Middle East Online goes into the politics of this civil war in more depth and also reports on the kidnapping.

Yemen is an incredible travel destination with historic architecture (like the impressive towers shown here), ancient ruins, and a traditional society not yet overrun with tourism. Numerous terrorist attacks and unrest in the provinces, however, have led the U.S. State Department to issue a warning to all U.S. citizens to avoid the country unless absolutely necessary. Many other countries have their own warnings against travel in Yemen, and this latest incident will only exacerbate the problem.

Have you been to Yemen? Please share your experiences in the comments section.