Gunmen killed five European tourists, wounded two and kidnapped two others in Ethiopia's remote Afar region, an Ethiopian official said Wednesday.
The group was visiting the country's Danakil area, which has been declared off-limits by most Western embassies as it is an area prone to banditry. The attack, called by Ethiopia an act of open terrorism occurred before dawn on Tuesday by gunmen rumored to have come from neighboring Eritrea; three Ethiopians were also taken as hostage, The Associated Press reported.
The tourists were visiting the volcanic region in Ethiopia's Afar region - a region that lies below sea level and is known for its intense heat and salt flats.
Ethiopian government spokesman Bereket Simon said two Germans, two Hungarians and an Austrian died in the attack, according to an Interpol report cited by the spokesman for Hungary's prime minister. Two Belgians were seriously wounded, two Italians escaped unharmed and two Germans were kidnapped, according to the report.
The foreign ministries for Austria and Germany confirmed the deaths of their citizens. On Wednesday, 11 survivors arrived by plane in the capital, Addis Ababa. One was pushed through the airport in a wheelchair, and others covered their faces to avoid being photographed by journalists, the AP wrote.
Ethiopia offered its condolences to the families of victims and said it would do everything possible to try and get those taken prisoner released as soon as possible, a government statement said. It is already clear that the attack was carried out with the direct involvement of the Eritrean government. There is a fear that the people who have been kidnapped might be taken across the border into Eritrea.
Ethiopia thinks the attack might have something to do with the African Union summit in Addis Ababa that is set to take place later this month, saying that the attacks are proof that the international community must now get serious about the destabilizing role of the Eritrean regime in the region.
Eritrea's envoy to the African Union, Girma Asmerom, called Ethiopia's latest allegation an absolute lie, Reuters reported. It has become a trend for Ethiopia to fabricate sensational news against Eritrea whenever the summit is nearing, Girma said.
From 1998 to 2000, Ethiopia and Eritrea fought a border war that claimed the lives of roughly 80,000 people. In 2007, five Europeans and 13 Ethiopians were kidnapped in Afar. And in 2008, Ethiopia foiled a kidnapping attempt on a group of 28 French tourists in the area.