3 al-Qaeda hostages freed in Yemen

2013-05-09 21:08
(Picture: AFP)

(Picture: AFP)

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Sana’a - A Finnish couple and an Austrian student abducted in Yemen by al-Qaeda militants more than four months ago, were freed and handed over to Omani authorities, a Yemeni official said on Thursday.

The three, seized in Sana’a on 21 December, were freed by local tribesmen on the border with Oman overnight on Wednesday and are now with Omani authorities, the official said.

"They were kidnapped by al-Qaeda militants... demanding a ransom and the release of members held in Yemeni jails," the official added.

A tribal source told AFP the kidnappers were demanding $50m to release the Europeans.

A security source added that energy-rich Qatar "offered, through an intermediary, to pay a ransom but the hostage-takers did not agree on the amount offered”.

The three were a Finnish man, who was studying Arabic in Yemen, a Finnish woman on visit to the Arabian Peninsula country and an Austrian student.

Swedish news agency TT, quoting the Finnish news agency, said the Finnish man is a military officer, who was studying Arabic and working on a paper on political radicalisation in the Middle East.

It identified the woman as his wife, an executive in an oil company visiting her husband when the kidnapping took place.

The three were seized by masked gunmen in an electronics shop in the capital and moved to different locations around Yemen, the official said, winding up in Hawf, a village on the Omani border.

He said Hawf residents had arrested the kidnappers and set free the hostages who were handed over to Omani authorities.

There was no immediate confirmation from Oman about their whereabouts.

At the end of March, Finland's foreign minister held talks in Sana’a with Yemen's president about the fate of the hostages.

Death threat

In February, the Austrian student appeared in a YouTube clip with a gun to his head, saying his captors would kill him unless Austria, Yemen and the EU met their ransom demands.

In early January, Yemeni security officials said the Europeans were being held by al-Qaeda-linked tribesmen in Marib province of eastern Yemen.

Al-Qaeda militants, active southern and eastern Yemen, rarely carry out kidnappings, but Saudi diplomat Abdullah al-Khalidi has remained in the hands of the jihadist network since his abduction in Aden on 28 March 2012.

Most kidnappings of foreigners in Yemen are by members of powerful tribes who use them as bargaining chips in disputes with the central government.

Hundreds of people have been abducted over the past 15 years.

Almost all have been freed unharmed.

Read more on:    al-qaeda  |  eu  |  yemen  |  abductions

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