Yemen rebels free US, Saudi, British hostages

AFP , Sunday 20 Sep 2015

US hostages
File Photo: A man, who identified himself as Luke Somers, speaks in this still image taken from video purportedly published by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) (Photo: Reuters)

Shia rebels in Yemen released two Americans, two Saudis and a Briton on Sunday after detaining them for around six months, Yemeni and US officials said.

The White House said two of its citizens were flown to Oman where they were met by US consular staff. It did not identify them by name.

However, CNN named one as Scott Darden, a 45-year-old employee of the New Orleans-based company Transoceanic Development.

He was taken hostage by Shia Houthis rebels in Sanaa in March, it cited a US administration official as saying, while naming the other freed American as Sam Farran.

A rebel Yemeni official and a security source had earlier said three US nationals were released by the Iran-backed Houthis who have controlled the Yemeni capital for the past year.

Houthi officials also provided no information on the identities of the freed foreigners or why they were being held.

An American journalist believed to have been held by the rebels was handed over to Oman in early June along with a Singaporean.

The journalist, Casey Coombs, had been freelancing in Yemen since 2012.

Washington has provided intelligence and logistical support for the Saudi-led air campaign launched in March against the rebels, while calling for a political solution to the conflict.

National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said officials had confirmed the release of two Americans and informed relatives.

"This outcome underscores that we have been and will continue to be tireless in pursuing the release of all Americans detained abroad unjustly, including those who remain in the region," he said.

The Washington Post reported earlier this month that three American men were being held by the rebels in Yemen, naming one as Darden.

The daily said Darden's supporters had released his name hoping to call attention to his case.

Darden was being held along with another American, a 54-year-old man from Michigan, the newspaper said, citing US officials familiar with the case.

The third detained American was believed to be a 35-year-old convert to Islam who was teaching English in Yemen, the daily said.

Oman has been involved in several cases of hostage release, highlighting its unique role as a discreet Gulf mediator.

In addition to the case of Coombs, French hostage Isabelle Prime was freed in August following Omani mediation after spending six months in captivity in Yemen.

Western nations have repeatedly turned to Muscat to act as mediator in resolving thorny regional issues -- from the kidnapping of Americans and Europeans to the Iran nuclear deal.

Yemen has been riven by violence, mainly since the Arab air war on the Houthis who had seized several provinces and pushed President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi into exile.

A number of foreigners have been taken hostage in Yemen over the past 15 years, mostly by tribesmen as bargaining chips in negotiations with the government. Almost all have been freed unharmed.

But in December, American journalist Luke Somers and South African teacher Pierre Korkie died during a failed attempt by US commandos to rescue them from an Al-Qaeda hideout in southeast Yemen.

Korkie's supporters complained after the raid that they had been on the verge of negotiating his release.

In June, President Barack Obama changed existing procedures to deal with hostage-takings, following criticism of US policy spearheaded by the family of journalist James Foley who was murdered last year by Islamic State group jihadists in Syria.

Obama, while not revoking Washington's policy of not making concessions to terrorists, has said families will not be prosecuted for discussing ransom demands with kidnappers.

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