British hostage rescued by UAE forces in Yemen
ABU DHABI // A British oil engineer held prisoner by terrorists in Yemen for 18 months has been freed in a UAE intelligence operation.
Robert Semple, 64, was rescued by Emirati troops operating from the southern port city of Aden.
“I’m pleased to confirm that a British hostage held in Yemen has been extracted by UAE forces in a military intelligence operation,” the British foreign secretary Philip Hammond said on Sunday.
“The British national is safe and well and is receiving support from British government officials. We are very grateful for the assistance of the UAE.”
Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, contacted British prime minister David Cameron on Saturday night to inform him of the successful rescue operation.
“I’m so pleased for the family of the British hostage in Yemen who has been released safe and well. Thanks to the UAE for their help,” Mr Cameron said on Twitter.
Mr Semple was flown by UAE military aircraft from Aden to Abu Dhabi, where he was received by local officials and the British ambassador. He was taken to hospital for medical checks.
The authorities also arranged for him to speak to his wife by telephone, and he is expected to fly home once medical checks and treatment have been completed.
Mr Semple is thought to have worked for Intracs Middle East, an engineering and construction company in Yemen.
He was abducted in February last year in Haddah, a neighbourhood in the south-west of the capital Sanaa, by terrorists from Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
Witnesses said four armed men forced Mr Semple out of his car and into another vehicle.
Political analysts hailed the rescue operation as a vital development for the UAE’s Armed Forces and said it showed the country’s counter-terrorism strategies and capabilities were evolving.
“The freeing of the hostage by the Armed Forces in Yemen represents an important step in counter-terrorism methods,” said Sabahat Khan, a senior analyst at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis, a think tank in Dubai.
“It shows the international community the value of GCC efforts taking place there.”
Mr Khan said the UAE was positioning itself against violent extremism and terrorists with a multi-faceted approach.
“Its operations in Yemen have been in support of these objectives,” he said. “The operations that the UAE Armed Forces conducted in Yemen have been critical in the process of stabilising Yemen over the past few weeks.”
Taufiq Rahim, another analyst in Dubai, said Al Qaeda would increasingly look to “play spoiler in southern Yemen where the UAE is trying to restore stability”.
“This operation is an important precedent demonstrating that the UAE has the capability to meet that threat, at least in the short-term.”
Others called the rescue a high point for the Armed Forces.
“It illustrates their capabilities and sets an important precedent for the future that the UAE is very serious when it comes to the situation in Yemen and other hotspots,” said Dr Theodore Karasik, a geopolitical analyst.
“It’s a message to terrorist groups that hostage-taking will not be tolerated and that foreign nationals held by groups like Al Qaeda or ISIL will be freed by the UAE Armed Forces in the future.”
* Additional reporting by Ben Flanagan
Updated: August 23, 2015 04:00 AM