Tribesmen today kidnapped a family of five German tourists – reportedly including a former deputy foreign minister – to press the government for the release of jailed members of their tribe, Yemeni officials and the German government said.
Among the captives was a former German deputy foreign minister, members of the tribe involved in the kidnapping said.
German television cited unnamed German and Yemeni officials as identifying the man as Juergen Chrobog, 65, who served as deputy foreign minister in the government of former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, which left office in November.
German Foreign Ministry officials and Yemeni government officials could not immediately be reached to confirm the report.
The family was travelling in a two-car convoy in an area of eastern Yemen called al-Irim, Shabwa province, when a group of gunmen surrounded their vehicles and forced all five Germans into their cars and sped off, government officials in Shabwa said.
The mountainous region on the edge of the Rub’ al-Khali – the vast desert of northern Yemen and south-east Saudi Arabia – is often frequented by tourists visiting Shabwa, the capital of the 1st Millennium BC Kingdom of Hadhramout, and the ruins of other ancient towns along the incense trade routes that once ran through southern Arabia.
The kidnappers belonged to the al-Abdullah bin Dahha tribe, a number of whose members were arrested two months ago after a clash with another tribe. The bin Dahha tribe has accused the government of favouring the second tribe.
Tribesmen frequently kidnap tourists in an attempt to force concessions from the government in Yemen, a poor, mountainous nation on the southern tip of the Arabian peninsula where state control in outlying areas is shaky.
The hostages are usually released unharmed, but several were killed in 2000 when security forces carried out a botched raid to free them.
In Berlin, the German Foreign Ministry said the family, which had been touring Yemen since December 24, had disappeared and it was not clear if they had been kidnapped.
The five, who were all members of one family, were travelling as part of an organised trip to Yemen when their vehicle “was delayed,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Jaeger said. The tour operator reported them missing, he said.
“The foreign office is in contact with all the relevant authorities and is trying to find out where this family could be,” Jaeger said.
“We will make every effort to bring this family to safety as quickly as possible.”
The ministry had set up a crisis unit to try to track the family down, he said.
Tribesmen in the mountains of central Yemen kidnapped two Austrians a week ago as the tourists were visiting a site known as the Queen of Sheba’s throne in Marib, about 150 miles west of al-Irim.
In that case as well, the kidnappers were demanding the release of arrested members of their tribe.
The Austrians were freed unharmed two days later after the government told the tribesmen it would look into their complaints.
Two Swiss tourists were kidnapped in the same area as the Austrians a month earlier but released two days later. They were grabbed by members of the al-Jizah tribe in an effort to win the release of one of the kidnappers’ brother, who had been arrested on charges of stealing a car.