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3 Americans Killed in Yemen; Work of Possible Terror Cell, say Officials - 2002-12-30

A suspected Muslim extremist has killed three American missionaries working at a hospital in Yemen. Yemeni authorities said the attack could be the work of a terrorist cell targeting foreigners.

An American doctor and two hospital-staff members were killed when a gunman opened fire at a hospital in Jibla, a town about 100 kilometers south of the Yemeni capital, Sanaa.

"The man brought in a rifle under his coat as if he were cradling a baby," said Jerry Rankin, president of the U.S.-based Southern Baptist International Mission Board, which operates the hospital. "He was immediately apprehended after the shooting by our security personnel there," Mr. Rankin said.

A hospital pharmacist, also an American, was wounded in the ambush. At this point, it is not known whether the gunman was working on behalf of a terrorist group or acting alone. But Yemeni authorities describe him as a 30-year-old suspected Muslim extremist with possible ties to others they say could be plotting more attacks on foreigners.

The U.S. government has repeatedly warned Americans to avoid travel in a country that is the ancestral homeland of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, and one with porous borders where several terrorist groups have a presence.

Just more than two years ago, 17 American sailors were killed in a terrorist bombing on the U.S. Navy destroyer Cole in Aden harbor, an attack that investigators link to al-Qaida.

Yemen is considered an ally in the war on terrorism, but the State Department warned last month of what it called a preponderance of information pointing to the possibility of more attacks on U.S. interests in Yemen.

Yemen Times publisher Walid al-Saqqaf said he believes it is too early to determine whether the hospital ambush was carried out by al-Qaida. "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," he said.

Southern Baptist missionaries have worked in Yemen for decades, and Mr. Rankin pledges not to allow these tragic events to chase humanitarian workers out of the 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," Mr. Rankin said.

This was the second attack on American missionaries in the Middle East in as many months. In November, an American nurse was killed in Lebanon. No one has been charged in that shooting.