x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Saudi frees two German girls held in Yemen

Saudi Arabia's security forces have freed two German girls taken hostage in neighbouring Yemen but there was no word on the fate of four other hostages seized along with them.

RIYADH // Saudi Arabia's security forces have freed two German girls taken hostage in neighbouring Yemen, an interior ministry spokesman said today, but there was no word on the fate of four other hostages seized along with them. "Saudi Arabia has retrieved two German children kidnapped in Yemen," a Saudi interior ministry spokesman said. "The two children were in a border area between the two countries among a group previously kidnapped by criminal elements last year."

The German family of five and a Briton have been missing in Yemen since last June, held by kidnappers who the government believes have links to al Qa'eda. There was no immediate word on the fate of the other hostages. The missing Europeans were among a group of nine foreigners kidnapped in the northern region of Saada, of which three women ? two Germans and a South Korean ? were later found dead. The German foreign minister said the girls were in relatively good health and would return home tomorrow, but he remained concerned about the remaining hostages.

"The two girls are now in safe hands with the Saudi authorities. Considering the circumstances they are doing well," the foreign minister Guido Westerwelle said. "They will return to Germany tomorrow." No group has claimed responsibility for the abduction, which occurred in an area where Shiite rebels have been fighting government troops on and off since 2004. The rebels have denied carrying out the kidnapping.

That conflict, which drew in oil exporter Saudi Arabia in November, appears to have calmed following a ceasefire agreement but analysts say peace is unlikely to last without serious trust-building measures. Yemen is under pressure to contain al Qa'eda after the Yemeni-based regional arm of the militant group claimed responsibility for an unsuccessful attempt to bomb a US-bound passenger plane in December.

Western allies and Saudi Arabia fear al Qa'eda is exploiting instability in Yemen to use the country as a base from which to prepare attacks in the region and beyond. * Reuters