A suspected Muslim extremist has shot dead three Americans working at a missionary hospital in Yemen, an attack which Yemeni authorities suspect is the work of a terrorist cell targeting foreigners. The FBI has launched an investigation into the killings in a country that has been the scene of previous terrorist attacks against Americans.
Three American missionaries, a doctor along with her two staffers, were killed when a gunman opened fire Monday morning with a semi-automatic rifle at a hospital in Jibla, a town about 100 kilometers south of the Yemeni capital, Sanaa.
Jerry Rankin is president of the Southern Baptist International Mission Board, whose missionaries have worked in the country for decades. "The man brought in a rifle under his coat as if he were cradling a baby. He was immediately apprehended after the shooting by our security personnel there," Mr. Rankin said.
An American pharmacist was wounded in the ambush. In Yemeni custody is a 30-year-old Yemeni man who authorities say is linked to a group of Islamic extremists targeting foreigners.
The FBI already has at least one agent at the scene and expects to send more, but U.S. officials are not yet calling this an act of terrorism. In a letter of condolence to President Bush, Yemen's president is vowing those responsible will be brought to justice.
It's not known whether the arrested gunman was working in league with one of several terrorist groups that have a presence in Yemen, the ancestral homeland of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, and a country that Americans have repeatedly been warned to stay away from.
It was just over two years ago that 17 American sailors were killed in a terrorist bombing on the USS Cole naval destroyer in Aden harbor, an attack that investigators link to al-Qaida. Despite a country considered an ally in the war on terrorism, the State Department warned just last month of what it called a preponderance of information pointing to the possibility of more attacks on U.S. interests there.
But at this point, Walid al-Saqqaf, publisher of the Yemen Times said it's too early to determine whether Monday's hospital ambush was carried out by a lone gunman, al-Qaida or any other terrorist group. "There are many fundamentalist groups that may seem to be linked to al-Qaida but they have their own ideologies. They may be sympathetic toward them but not necessarily operated by them," Mr. Saqqaf said.
Jerry Rankin, president of the group that sent the three slain Americans to Yemen, is pledging not to allow these tragic events to chase humanitarian workers out of a country. "If we would, we would probably be ending our ministry in many of the countries throughout the world. There have been threats, they are taken seriously but our people are very culturally adapted. It just goes not only with being a Christian missionary now, but with being an American," he said.
This was the second attack on American missionaries in the Middle East in as many months. In November, an American nurse was shot dead in Lebanon in a crime for which no one has been charged.