The suspected killer, identified by officials as 30-year-old Abed Abdel Razzak Kamel, surrendered to hospital security personnel and was arrested by the Interior Ministry. Security forces said they are continuing to search for a larger militant cell suspected of operating in Yemen and targeting foreigners.
The Richmond, Va.-based Southern Baptist International Mission Board has operated Jibla Baptist Hospital, located about 120 miles south of Yemen’s capital, San’a, for 35 years. More than 40,000 patients a year are treated at the facility, which is on property owned by the Yemeni government.
According to news reports, the gunman entered the hospital with a semiautomatic rifle hidden as if he were carrying a child. He then entered a room where hospital director William Koehn was holding a meeting and opened fire. Koehn, purchasing agent Kathleen Gariety and physician Martha Myers were killed instantly when the attacker shot each in the head.
The gunman then headed to the pharmacy where pharmacist Donald Caswell was shot and wounded. Hospital officials said Caswell was in critical condition.
“We just thank the Lord that he is alive,” Caswell’s father told the Reuters news service from Texas. “He’s alert and talking and everything’s going to be all right, they’re thinking.”
International Mission Board spokesman Larry Cox said his organization was “devastated by this news.”
“We are moving quickly to minister to family members located in Yemen as well as the United States,” Cox said.
Board president Jerry Rankin said in a later news conference that his organization would continue to operate in Yemen as long as the government allows.
A Yemeni official said Kamel told police he believed that killing the Christian missionaries would bring him closer to God.
“The gunman confessed to being a member of the Islamic Jihad group and said he shot the Americans because they were preaching Christianity,” the official said, referring to a Yemeni group unrelated to the Palestinian movement also called Islamic Jihad.
The U.S. State Department has repeatedly warned Americans about traveling to Yemen saying the security threat remains “high.” The central government in Yemen is weak in many tribal areas and Muslim militants have found refuge in the small country, making it a repeated hotspot in the U.S.-led war on terrorism.
The U.S. Embassy in San’a condemned the attack “on American citizens who have long been providing humanitarian services to Yemeni citizens.” It urged the Yemeni government “to bring those responsible to justice.”