SAN’A, Yemen – Yemen accused a Shiite rebel group Sunday of kidnapping nine foreigners in the country’s rugged northern Saada province.
But the group, which is led by Abdel Malak al-Hawthi, denied any involvement and accused the government of trying to tarnish the rebels’ image.
“This is a new conspiracy by the ruling regime to launch a new war and tarnish the image of the sons of Saada,” the group said in a statement faxed to The Associated Press.
The Yemeni Interior Ministry said the foreigners, who it did not identify, were kidnapped while on a picnic in Saada.
The ministry said the group included a German doctor, his wife and their three children, as well as a Briton and his South Korean wife and two other German nationals.
The Foreign Ministry in Berlin confirmed that seven Germans are missing in Yemen. The ministry has organized a crisis team to deal with the matter and the German Embassy in Yemen is in contact with local authorities, it said.
The state news agency said the foreigners worked in a hospital in Saada.
Tribesmen in Yemen frequently take foreigners hostage to pressure the government on a range of demands and generally release them unharmed.
Tribesmen on Friday freed 24 local and foreign medics working at a Saudi-funded hospital in Saada less than 24 hours after their kidnapping, which was not carried out by the al-Hawthi group.
Thousands of people have been killed in Saada since a Shiite rebellion erupted there in June 2004. The rebels say the government is corrupt and too closely allied with the West. The government has charged al-Hawthi with sedition, forming an illegal armed group and inciting anti-American sentiment.
The group negotiated a fragile cease-fire with the government last year, but serious tension remains.