A group of foreigners were warned against going on an outing before a kidnapping which led to the killing of three of them, Yemen’s interior minister said on Saturday.
“The authorities received the threat of an attack and there was a warning given to the Germans asking them not to travel outside their area of work,” Muttahar al-Masri told reporters.
The killing of three women, identified as two German nurses and a South Korean teacher, coincided with a rise in separatist and militant tensions in Yemen whose instability has alarmed Western countries and Saudi Arabia.
The nine were seized last week outside the town of Saada, the centre of a mountainous province in an attack that an analyst said bore the hallmarks of al-Qaeda.
The nine comprised seven Germans, a Briton and a Korean, and included three children and their mother.
“We have a report that they (six hostages) are still alive but we cannot confirm it,” Masri said.
Like other Yemeni officials, Masri blamed the Houthi tribal group, who belong to a Shi’ite Muslim sect, for the kidnapping, a charge the Houthis have denied.
“The nature of the operation indicates that a group of supporters of Houthis was behind it, but every possibility is still open,” Masri said.
The minister said Yemeni security forces, who are scouring Saada and three nearby provinces for the kidnappers, were cooperating with agents from Germany, Britain and South Korea.
Yemen has offered a reward of $275,000 for information leading to the capture of the kidnappers.
If the killings were carried out by tribesmen, it would be the first time that female hostages have been their victims.
Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest country, is struggling with a revolt in the north, a secessionist movement in the south and growing militancy.
The unrest has raised concerns Yemen may slip into chaos and provide a base for al-Qaeda or pirates operating in the Indian Ocean.