On June 12, nine foreigners were abducted in Yemen — four German adults, three small German children, a British man and a South Korean woman — after they ventured outside the city of Sa’ada without an armed escort. According to Speigel, German investigators of the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) and Yemeni officials have concluded that:
the group of foreigners, which comprised six devout Christians and three children, left the town of Saada in a Toyota SUV around 4pm on Friday June 12 to visit a doctor they knew who lived near the city. There, they drank tea before setting off again around 6pm. Witnesses report seeing the group being stopped by a number of armed men in a black Suzuki Vitara.
Around 6:45pm, one of the two young German women managed to call a German nurse, Rosa K., in Saada using her mobile phone. However the woman could not hear the caller very well and hung up. The investigators assume that the kidnappers executed three of their victims with shots to the head in a riverbed a short time later. Police later found a cartridge case next to one of the bodies.
Four days later, the bodies of Rita Stumpp (26) and Anita Gruenwald (24), German nurses in training, and Eom Young-sun (33) of South Korea were found. Still missing are German doctor Johannes Hentschel. (36), his wife Sabine (36), their three children Lydia (4), Anna (3) and Simon (1) and British engineer Anthony S. Their whereabouts remain unknown.
What is becoming apparent, however, is that these were not just any foreigners picked at random but they were probably especially targeted because of who they were as Christian relief workers. Stumpp and Gruenwald attended Brake Bible School in Lemgo, Germany and had only recently arrived in Yemen to serve an internship at al-Jumhuri Hospital in Sa’ada. The hospital internship was scheduled to last three months. Eom Young-sun, who also called herself Magdalena after the follower of Jesus, arrived in Yemen last October as a volunteer teacher and had attended a Christian missionary school in South Korea. Other members of the group apparently had ties to other missionary organizations and all six adults worked for Worldwide Services, a small Dutch-based international non-governmental organization working in the health sector in Yemen. Speigel reported today that one of the kidnapped men, Johannes Hentschel, had been threatened a few months ago by angry Muslims who objected to his personal efforts to share Christ with Muslims. German investigators have also found missionary tracts in the belongings of the two German nurses who were killed. The German Foreign Ministry's task force is now assuming that the Germans were known locally as missionaries and that Islamists were the likely perpetrators. Local imams reportedly had concerns that the hospital workers were doing evangelistic work in conjunction with providing medical aid.
Most observers now believe that the kidnappers are members of or have links to al-Qaeda. The region where the bodies were found was in the Noshour Valley, an area known to be a hotbed of al-Qaeda activity. Some terrorist experts are also suggesting that the killings resemble the work of Said Ali al-Shihri, deputy leader of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, who once was in American custody in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba but released in November 2007 and sent to a Saudi Arabian "rehabilitation" program for jihadists. It wasn't long before a "cured" al-Shihri was released from the program, crossed into Yemen and rejoined al-Qaeda, with whom he quickly rose to deputy commander.
Two issues will likely arise out of this incident:
1. There will be those who will point to this and decry any Christian evangelistic activities in Muslim countries by relief workers, inferring that the kidnapping and killings could have been avoided if these foreigners had simply kept their faith to themselves. This, however, ignores both the motivation of those who go to serve (love of Christ and others) and the missionary nature of true Christianity. To be a Christian is to witness and true witnessing involves words. From a biblical perspective, God’s messengers cannot be silent. They can only be silenced. However, there will be those who will try to blame the victims for what has happened to them.
2. If it is shown that Ali al-Shihri was involved, there will be those who will point to this as evidence that President Obama's plan to close the Guantanamo Bay detention centre by January 2010 could lead to future and more severe terrorist attacks. While I have gone on record as supporting the closing of Guantanamo Bay, I am concerned that not enough will be done to guarantee that the truly dangerous inmates have been identified and dealt appropriately according to the rule of law. Instead, I fear, they will simply be relocated to a willing nation where some (perhaps many) will simply slip back to countries like Yemen, Afghanistan or Iraq and resume their Islamist activities, including attacking and killing Christians.
Please pray for the safe return of those still being held. Yemeni authorities believe that they are still alive. Pray, too, for the grieving families of those who were killed. Pray for Anthony’s wife who had decided not to go with the group on their outing and remains in Sa’ada.