By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
SANA’A/WOLFSBURG (BosNewsLife)– Christian aid workers are believed to have been kidnapped and killed in Yemen by suspected Islamic militants because they were involved in evangelism among Muslims and had been warned to end their mission work, BosNewsLife learned Thursday June 25.
The bodies of German nurses in training, Rita Stumpp, 26, and Anita Gruenwald, 24, and a 33-year-old South Korean woman, Eom Young-sun, were found by child shepards, four days after they were abducted June 12 with six other foreigners in the country’s troubled Noshour Valley region.
Yemen’s Information Ministry said it was hopeful that the other Christian hostages, including a British engineer, a German married couple and their three young children, were still alive.
German investigators have reportedly linked the kidnapping and killings by Islamic militants to Christian activities of the hostages, who had allegedly “been warned” not to be involved in mission work.
Yemen allows aid workers but it strictly forbids attempts to convert people to other religions in the country, where Islamic fundamentalists believe Christianity must be kept out of the Arabian peninsula.
The hostages supported Worldwide Services, a Netherlands-based Christian-leaning relief group that has been working at al-Jumhuri hospital in north-west city of Saada, for 30 years.
Worldwide Services has reportedly ties to a British evangelical organisation Worldwide Evangelization for Christ. Its Web site says its mission is to “reach out to people who have limited or no access to the good news of Jesus Christ, particularly where there is no church.” Worldwide services has been reluctant to discuss the situation with reporters.
“Anita and Rita will be remembered as people who loved God and all people,” said Matthias Rüther, the head of the German-based Brake Bible School where the two had been studying. The school said the nurses were in Yemen to learn more about Christian charity.
Their work was remembered earlier this week when some 2,000 mourners attended a memorial church service in the northern city of Wolfsburg. “What happened to them is beyond comprehension,” said local community leader Johann Dockter.
Local sources reportedly said the hostages were also involved in a Baptist organisation that has a medical team in the hospital at Jebla, south of Sanaa, where an Islamist militant killed three American doctors in December 2002.
Yemeni authorities have blamed the abduction and murders on rebels from Yemen’s Zaidi Shiite minority, an accusation they have vehemently denied. However French News Agency AFP quoted an unidentified tribal source as saying that the six foreign hostages “were found alive and handed over to (rebel) commander Abdullah al-Rizani.”
They were believed to be in the Ruzmat area of Saada province, the centre of the Shiite rebellion in the mountains near the Saudi border.
Foreigners are often kidnapped in Yemen by tribesmen to be used as bargaining chips in disputes with the government, observers said. Over 200 foreigners have been abducted over the past 15 years, but this was the first in nearly a decade that a foreign hostage has died, observers said.
In June 2000, a Norwegian diplomat was killed in an gunfight between police and his a abductors and in December 1998, three Britons and an Australian seized by Islamist militants died when security forces stormed the kidnappers’ hideout.
In March of this year, four South Korean visitors to Yemen were killed in a suicide bombing at a historic tourist site that was claimed by Al-Qaeda. Seoul has urged its citizens to leave Yemen, adding to concerns among Christians that this will further impact mission works in the region, representatives told BosNewsLife.