Ten killed in suicide bombing outside temple in Yemen

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The Independent Online

A suspected al-Qa'ida suicide bomber killed 10 people including himself yesterday when he plowed his car into a group of Spanish tourists outside a temple linked to the ancient Queen of Sheba in a part of central Yemen known for its lawlessness, officials said.

The suicide car bomb came less than two weeks after the US Embassy in Yemen issued a warning to Americans to avoid the area, which until recent years was rarely visited by tourists because of frequent kidnappings of foreigners.

Officials with Yemen's Interior Ministry said seven Spanish tourists were killed and several others wounded. Three Yemenis, including the suicide bomber, were also killed in the attack outside the 3,000-year-old Queen of Sheba temple in the central province of Marib, the officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Witnesses reported seeing a car drive into the group of tourists on a road outside the temple site. The mangled remains of a four-wheel drive vehicle could be seen on the side of a road, but it was unclear if the vehicle belonged to the bomber or the tourists.

The Queen of Sheba temple, which is known in Yemen by its Arabic name, Balqis, is located in the Marib province about 84 miles east of the capital, San'a.

The area, which is home to four powerful tribes with more than 70 branches, has earned a reputation for being wild and has been known to be a hotbed of support for al-Qa'ida.

About 100 foreigners have been kidnapped in this area since the 1990s. As a result, tourists were a rare site, and solo travelers who wanted to go to Marib had to drive there as part of a convoy escorted by armed soldiers.

But in recent years, the area had grown calmer and tourists looking for an off-the-beaten path adventure began to travel more frequently to Marib, which was the capital of Saba, or Sheba, the mightiest kingdom of ancient Arabia.

Yemen has been trying to make the Queen of Sheba temple, known for its columns marking the entrance, a major tourist attraction, especially after it was renovated several years ago. The Queen of Sheba is believed to have ruled over an empire of frankincense and myrrh, and the Biblical story talks about her visit to King Solomon in Jerusalem, where she took with her camels bearing spices, gold and precious stones.

There were no immediate claims of responsibility for Monday's blast, but authorities linked the suicide bomber to al-Qa'ida. Yemen is the ancestral home of Osama bin Laden, and police said they had received information last month about a possible al-Qa'ida attack. They did not elaborate.

Spain's Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos said the suicide bomber drove into the middle of a convoy, killing the seven Spaniards and wounded five other Spanish tourists, including one seriously.

Spain has considered tourism in Yemen dangerous for some time. In recommendations published in April, the ministry advised travelers that there was a "risk of terrorist action and some tribes use kidnapping of foreigners as a means of currying favor with the government."

"The regions of Marib and Shabwa are not currently recommendable and in the case of traveling there it is essential to go accompanied by a local guide and a military escort," the recommendation said.

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