MUSCAT (AFP) – Two US citizens “held” in Yemen have been freed and were taken to Oman on Saturday (Oct 15) after mediation by authorities in the Gulf nation, the state-run Oman News Agency reported.
The agency, quoting an Omani foreign ministry spokesman, said the two Americans were brought to Oman aboard an aircraft that earlier Saturday flew to the Yemeni capital to evacuate those wounded in air strikes on a funeral in Sanaa last week.
It did not identify the US nationals.
But it quoted the spokesman as saying that Oman mediated the release of the pair in order “to help the American government obtain the liberation of a number of Americans held in Yemen.”
“Two of them were freed and taken this evening to the Sultanate of Oman aboard an Omani air force plane ahead of the repatriation,” the spokesman added.
He said Omani authorities secured their release “in coordination with Yemeni parties in Sanaa”, the capital which is under the control of the Shiite Huthi rebels and their allies, supporters of ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh.
The United States confirmed the release of its citizens.
“We welcome reports that two US citizens who had been detained in Yemen were released and have arrived safely in Oman,” said State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner.
He said Washington was “deeply grateful” to Oman for facilitating their release and noted a “humanitarian gesture by the Huthis in releasing these US citizens”.
“We call for the immediate and unconditional release of any other US citizens who may still be held,” added Toner.
There have been dozens of kidnappings of foreigners in Yemen over the years, most of them by members of the country’s heavily armed tribes seeking concessions from the authorities.
Since the Huthi rebels overran the capital in September 2014, they have detained several Westerners, most of whom have been released through Omani mediation.
On Sept 20, a US citizen who ran an English-language school in Sanaa was detained by men who said they were security officers working for the Huthis, witnesses said at the time.
A rebel leader later said the US national was detained for providing the Saudi-led coalition with target coordinates for its deadly campaign against the Iran-backed Huthis.
Saturday’s release comes almost two weeks after a Franco-Tunisian Red Cross female staffer kidnapped in Yemen almost a year ago was freed and taken to Muscat after Omani mediation.
A member of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council, Oman has good ties with countries outside the wealthy bloc including Iran and Yemen.
It is the only GCC country not to have joined the coalition air war against the Huthis and their allies in Yemen, although it maintains good relations with regional powerhouse Saudi Arabia.
Oman is also one of the few Arab countries to have a good relationship with Shiite Iran and has mediated between Teheran and Washington on prisoners in the past.
In September last year, Yemeni rebels freed six foreigners, two of them Americans.