US hostages released in Yemen, a sign of a large prisoner exchange
Two Americans held hostage by Iran-backed Houthi fighters in Yemen were released on Wednesday, seemingly as part of a large prisoner exchange.
Sandra Loli, a humanitarian worker had been held for three years, and businessman Mikael Gidada, held for about one, were freed on Wednesday, US officials said.
The moves come as part of an agreement under which about 240 Houthis in Oman, many of them former armed combatants originally captured by Saudi Arabia, were allowed to return to Yemen. Some of them were former armed combatants.
Houthi leaders also released the remains of a third American, Bilal Fateen, a Yemeni dual national who died of natural causes while in captivity.
A much-anticipated swap between Yemen’s internationally recognized, Saudi-backed government and the Houthi rebels had been expected to take place on Thursday.
US national security adviser Robert O’Brien thanked Sultan Haitham bin Tariq of Oman and King Salman of Saudi Arabia “for their efforts to secure the release of our citizens.”
A Houthi spokesman, Mohammed Abdulsalam, also thanked Oman for its “humanitarian efforts”.
The Houthis were flown home through Saudi Arabian airspace, a conciliatory gesture from the Saudi kingdom given that Saudi Arabia has been waging a military campaign against the Houthis, who toppled Yemen’s government in January 2015.