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13 June 2024

Belgian tourists home after Yemen attack

By Agencies


Eleven Belgian tourists who survived a shooting attack on their convoy in Yemen which killed three people had an emotional homecoming in Brussels Saturday, a foreign ministry spokesman said.

"It was a very emotional event, and very sad, in that the family of the two victims were there," said spokesman Marc Michielsen, referring to two Belgian women who were shot dead.

A Yemeni driver was also killed, and another Belgian man injured.

"Most of them already knew each other because they had travelled together in the past. The fact that there were two dead and one injured, that they knew each other, only intensified feelings," the spokesman said.

The tourists, most of them elderly and from Flanders, were whisked away from the airport terminal, and members of their families, who had been awaiting their arrival, were taken to a undisclosed location by bus to meet their loved ones.

The bodies of the two women tourists, shot dead when gunmen opened fire on jeeps the tourists were using to travel in the eastern province of Hadramut's Do'an Valley, were to be returned to Belgium at a later date.

Earlier, the Yemeni tourism minister had said 12 Belgian tourists would head home on Saturday. However, their guide remained in Yemen to be with the wounded Belgian, 65-year-old Patrick Coucke, who was shot in the stomach. Both are expected to return to Belgium Sunday in a special plane that was being sent for them.

The shooting, by unidentified gunmen in the eastern province of Hadramut's Do'an Valley, happened on Friday as a group of 15 tourists was travelling to the city of Shibam, some 450 kilometres (280 miles) east of the Yemeni capital, Sanaa.

Repeating an account given by one the travellers, who did not wish to make a statement or be questioned, Michielsen explained that the convoy had been confronted in the desert by a Toyota vehicle, from which six gunmen got out.

The gunmen rained fire on the first jeep, killing the driver and the two women -- identified as 65-year-old Claudine Van Caillie and Katrine Glorie, 54 -- and wounding Coucke.

They also fired on the second and third jeeps, but no one in those vehicles was hurt. A fourth jeep had earlier dropped off behind the convoy to take photographs and was not involved in the incident.

"They were lucky in that they escaped because of that," Michielsen said.

The two jeeps that fled the area called police on their mobile telephones and eventually made it to a police outpost, some seven kilometres (four miles) from the scene.

The attackers quickly left the area.

"They didn't try to steal anything. It was really a kind of hit-and-run tactic," Michielsen said.

Early Saturday, a Yemeni security official told AFP that "dozens of suspects had been detained," but gave no details.