NEWYORK — Five United Nations employees kidnapped in Yemen by an al-Qaida affiliate 18 months ago have been released, UN officials said on Friday.
David Gressly, the UN’s humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, said the five men – four from Yemen and one from Bangladesh, “are in good health, in good spirits… but they have gone through a period of isolation. It’s very difficult.”
Five people were released after lengthy negotiations including officials from Oman, the United Nations said. Gressly, who spoke to UN reporters after flying with four citizens to the port city of Aden in southern Yemen, said: “I can confirm that the hostages are Al Qaeda in the country. Arabian Peninsula.”
Also known as AQAP, the group has been active in southern Yemen for years and is considered one of the most dangerous branches of the global al-Qaeda network. It attempted to launch attacks on the US mainland.
Gressly said the UN never paid the ransom, which is one reason UN staff members may have been detained for so long.
“This is a threat that is still here in Yemen – and indeed a growing threat,” he said.
In February 2022, suspected al-Qaida militants abducted five United Nations staff members in the southern province of Abyan, Yemeni officials told the Associated Press at the time.
In a statement earlier on Friday, Farhan Haq, deputy spokesman for United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres referred to the freed men as Akm Sufiul Anam; Bawazir Labyrinth; Bakeel al-Mahdi; Mohammed al-Mulaiki; and Khaled Mokhtar Sheikh. They all work for the United Nations Department of Security and Safety, he said.
Three Yemeni security officials and a tribal leader also said al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula was behind last year’s kidnapping in Abyan province.
However, they say that after a series of intense negotiations brokered by tribal leaders, a ransom was paid to the militant group and the UN staff was later released. The three security officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not briefed to speak to journalists. The tribal leader asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal.
No other agreement on the alleged payment was provided, and the security sources did not specify which agency or individual made the incidental payments. A spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition, which backs Yemen’s internationally recognized government in its fight against Iran-backed Houthi rebels, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. ransom.
The AP was unable to reconcile the Yemeni narrative with Gressly’s statement about the UN’s no-ransom stance.
Gressly told reporters he did not want to provide details about the staff’s detention.
“They are extremely excited to be back here in Aden,” he said. I think now is the time for us, simply to celebrate their return, to give them time to return to their families.”
“There’s a lot that will have to be worked out in the coming days and weeks for them,” he said. “This is a very difficult situation for anyone to get through, but they seem to have come through in remarkable shape.”
Kidnappings are common in Yemen, an impoverished country where armed militants and tribesmen take hostages in exchange for prisoners or cash.
War has ravaged the country since 2014, when Houthi rebels seized the country’s capital and much of the north, and forced the government into exile.
A Saudi-led coalition including the United Arab Emirates intervened the following year to try to restore power to Yemen’s internationally recognized government.
Since then, Al-Qaida has exploited the conflict to bolster its presence in the country.
Al-Haj reported from Sanaa. Jack Jeffery of Cairo contributed reporting.