Leading Article: Don't blame the Yemeni government

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The Independent Culture
IN ALL the discussion of precisely how the hostages were killed in Yemen, we are in danger of forgetting a simple truth. It is not the Yemeni authorities who are primarily to blame for the death of the four tourists but the Islamic Jihad group who seized them in the first place.

On the first accounts of the survivors - although their tales are still confused - it does seem as if the Yemeni troops fired first. No doubt the action could have been carried out more safely. Given the past history of Yemeni hostage-taking, the tourists must have known they were taking risks.

But the crucial point remains: these were western hostages deliberately taken by a fundamentalist group for political ends. The Yemeni authorities couldn't just give in to their demands for the release of their leader from jail as if this was no different than the ransoms they have agreed with previous hostage-takers in the region.

We have learnt enough from air-hijacking to know that giving in to such demands never works. We have also learnt enough - or should have by now - to treat seizing hostages in this manner as a form of international terrorism, not a peculiar pastime of a wild country. The lessons of air- hijacking are there to be read. There has to be international co-ordination of intelligence and counter-measures. Special forces have to be trained for quick response. But above all, the perpetrators of such actions have to be made to understand that, even if they escape, they will be pursued for decades not just years - each time they travel abroad or use the banking system. Yes, revise the Foreign Office warning system (although they cannot be held responsible for every tourist taking risks abroad). Yes, examine what did happen in the fatal shoot-out in southern Yemen. But don't let that detract from the international effort that is now required.