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Italian guard kidnapped at gunpoint by Yemeni tribesman

Abductions soar to 73 cases this year alone as locals who have grievances grab foreigners to get payback.

SANAA // The kidnapping of an Italian in Sanaa is the latest example of Yemeni tribesmen exploiting the country's political turmoil to make their grievances known.

The man, who works as a guard at the Italian embassy in the capital, was abducted on Sunday as he walked on the street near the mission's building.

He was forced into a vehicle at gunpoint and taken to the Mareb province, said to the ministry.

He is the third Italian to be kidnapped in Yemen since 2008, according to the interior ministry.

The kidnapper has asked for a ransom and demanded that his name be removed from a government blacklist.

The interior ministry on Tuesday identified the kidnapper as Ali Nasser Jredan from Al Jalal tribe.

He was arrested in January on charges of killing several soldiers but released in exchange for a Norwegian United Nations worker who had been kidnapped by his tribe.

Tribal elders said that Mr Jredan was asking for US$70,000 (Dh257,000) as "compensation" for what he claims was his "wrongful detention".

The kidnapping of foreigners became more widespread during the protests last year that led to Ali Abdullah Saleh stepping down as the president in February.

This year alone, 73 cases of kidnappings have been recorded by the ministry, including a Swiss, Saudi, two Palestinians and four Philippines nationals.

In addition, an American was killed on his way to work.

In April, a French worker with the International Committee of the Red Cross was taken by four gunmen in the city of Hodeida. He was released 60 days later.

The interior ministry said that kidnappings had increased by 45 per cent in 2011, compared with the year before.

Its annual report revealed that there were 133 cases in 2011 and said that number was expected to increase further in 2012 due to the political turmoil in the country.

"Sadly to say, we have not been able to solve the phenomena of kidnapping," said Abdullah Al Humaikani, an interior ministry official.

Tribesman resort to kidnapping foreigners when they feel that they have been deprived of their rights.

"My voice is only heard when I kidnap a foreigner," said Ali Al Ameri, a notorious kidnapper in Yemen's northeastern province of Mareb.

He was involved in the kidnapping of Waheeb Rouf, an Uzbek physician seized at gunpoint while on his way to Sanaa from Mareb earlier in the year.

Mr Rouf was released 10 days later when his captors realised that Uzbekistan did not have an embassy in Yemen.

"The kidnappers thought he was Russian and were expecting a huge ransom for his release," said a source close to the tribal leader Mubarak Al Mashan, who negotiated Mr Rouf's release.

"When they knew he was from Uzbekistan and no one would pay for his freedom, he was released."

That those employed by aid and humanitarian organisations have been targeted is of great concern for officials.

The abduction of the Saudi deputy consular in Aden last month has also caused friction between Yemen and one of its key donors. In May, Saudi Arabia pledged $3.25 billion in aid to Yemen.

"We are shooting ourselves in the foot," said Mohammed Abdul Salam, the director of the Sanaa-based Abaad Strategic Centre. "We shouldn't expect others to help us if we won't help ourselves."

A lack of governance has also scared off tourists. The Yemeni tourism ministry has reported an 84 per cent decline since 2010.

"Who would risk his life to come to Yemen?" said Yahya Al Madwami, the chairman of Friendship, a tour operator. "It doesn't make sense to travel to a destination where your life is in danger."

He said that six of his foreign guests had been kidnapped over the last year and his agency had been forced to pay the ransoms.

foreign.desk@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting by Associated Press

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