Key Points:

SANAA - Yemen said seven Spanish tourists and two Yemenis were killed in a suspected al Qaeda suicide car bomb attack on their convoy in the province of Marib on Monday.

Six Spanish tourists were wounded in the attack and were taken to hospitals in Sanaa and Marib, about 150 km east of the capital, the official Saba news agency quoted an Interior Ministry source as saying.

"Preliminary information indicate that al Qaeda is behind this cowardly terrorist attack," the source said.

The bomber targeted the tourists after their vehicles left a temple in Marib at about 5.30pm. (2.30am NZT), the source said.

Two of their Yemeni drivers and tourist guides were killed and two were wounded.

"The security bodies will spare no effort to track down the terrorist elements behind this criminal act and present them to justice for a deterring punishment," the source said.

Security sources told Reuters earlier the attack followed an al Qaeda statement last week demanding the release of some of its members jailed in Yemen and warned of unspecified actions.

Spain's Foreign Ministry confirmed seven Spanish tourists were killed and six wounded when a suicide car bomber drove into their convoy.

Residents said body parts were strewn around the charred and damaged vehicles used by the Spaniards. One resident said the blast was very strong and was heard for miles.

Yemen is the ancestral home of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. It joined the US-led war on terrorism launched after the September 11 attacks on the United States and has been battling Islamic militants for years.

The security sources said al Qaeda also demanded that Sanaa reconsider its cooperation with Washington.

In March a French student and a Yemeni man were killed and another Frenchman was wounded when Shi'ite rebels attacked an Islamic college in a volatile area in northern Yemen. The rebels are not linked to al Qaeda.

Yemen foiled two suicide attacks on oil and gas installations in 2006, days after al Qaeda urged Muslims to target Western interests, especially oil installations.

Al Qaeda's wing in Yemen claimed responsibility for the foiled attacks and vowed more strikes.

In 2002 militants bombed the French oil supertanker Limburg off Yemen's coast. In 2000, a suicide attack on the US warship Cole killed 17 US sailors.

Yemen, on the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, has been widely seen in the West as a haven for Muslim militants, including al Qaeda supporters.

Scores of tourists and foreigners working in Yemen have been kidnapped over the last decade by tribesmen demanding better schools, roads and services, or the release of jailed relatives.

Most hostages were released unharmed, but in 2000 a Norwegian diplomat was killed in crossfire and in 1998 four Westerners were killed during a botched army attempt to free them from Islamic militants who had seized 16 tourists.

- REUTERS