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US man held in Yemen rebel-held territory set free

An American citizen detained in Yemen has left the country on a flight to Oman. The man was reportedly freed following negotiations with 'concerned parties' in the rebel-held capital, Sanaa.

The US national was evacuated on board an Omani military jet bound for Muscat on Sunday along with Yemenis wounded in the country's conflict, Oman's foreign ministry said in a statement.

It added that the man, identified by US authorities as Wallead Yusuf Pitts Luqman, was released after "a request by the US government (to Oman) to continue helping in (releasing) its citizens held in Yemen."

Oman - a member of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) - has sought to remain neutral during Yemen's 19-month conflict. The sultanate also enjoys good ties with the Shiite Houthi rebels, which are backed by Iran and control the Yemeni capital and much of the country's north.

In an apparent reference to the Houthis, the ministry said Luqman was freed after "coordination with concerned parties in Sanaa."

US Secretary of State John Kerry expressed his "deepest gratitude and appreciation" to the government of Oman "for their leadership and assistance in securing Mr Luqman's safe return."

"We also recognize this positive gesture by the Houthis," Kerry added. "We will be relentless in our efforts to secure the release of Americans unjustly detained overseas."

 

Oman a key mediator

Houthi militants overran Sanaa in September 2014, ousting internationally recognized President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and taking a number of Westerners hostage. Many of them have subsequently been released thanks to Oman's mediation.

An Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia launched a bombing campaign against the rebels in March 2015 in a bid to restore President Hadi to power. Oman is the only GCC country not to have joined the coalition, although it still maintains good relations with Saudi Arabia.

US authorities have not provided any details about when Luqman was captured or why he was being held. Some media outlets have reported that a US citizen was in detention in Yemen on charges of spying for the Saudi-led coalition.

According to "The New York Times," the 37-year-old was a former marine who had been teaching English in Yemen. The newspaper said he was abducted in April 2015 and was held in secret by the Houthis. 

nm/jm (Reuters, AFP)

 

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