Terrorist group al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula has killed an American teacher accused of preaching Christianity in Yemen, according to text messages sent out by the group.
The American, 30-year-old Joel Shrum, was killed in the Yemeni province of Taiz on Sunday. Shrum, from Pennsylvania, was fatally shot by two gunmen on a motorcycle, according to defense ministry officials.
Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula sent out a text message to journalists in the country claiming responsibility for the attack. The group said Shrum was killed for serving as a "senior missionary" in Taiz – working to spread Christianity to the Yemeni people.
The Yemeni constitution mentions religious liberty but proselytizing is illegal and it is against the law for Muslims to convert to Christianity, according to Christian persecution group, The Voice of Martyrs.
Christianity exists as a minority religion in the country with an estimated 4,000 Catholics believed to live in Yemen. Christian missions from several countries have an active presence in Yemen.
The International Training Development Center where Shrum was employed, which is a government-affiliated NGO, has denied the terrorist networks claims that Shrum was working as a Christian missionary.
"He was an American development worker who has been working in Yemen with his wife and two children since 2010," the center said in a statement.
The ITDC is a vocational center that is partnered with the Yemeni government to provide services to poor communities. Shrum was apparently on his way to teach an English course to community residents when he was killed. He leaves behind a wife and two young children.
The training and development center said that Muslims and Christians work together within the institution to foster "human development, skill transfer and community development" but added that religious and political debates are not permitted within the institution and that all religions are respected.
"The ITDC is calling on the Yemeni people to rise up and reject this hatred and violence in their country," the statement added.
Yemen is considered the poorest country in the Arab world and is mired with a plethora of problems including water scarcity and virtual nationwide addition to the mild narcotic khat. Former president of the country, Ali Addullah Saleh, stepped down from his post last month following a year of deadly protests against his leadership that left some 2,000 people dead.