Yemen launches operation to free hostages

SANAA - Yemeni security forces have launched an operation to free two Chinese oil workers kidnapped by separatist militants, a Defence Ministry website said on Monday.

By (Reuters)

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Published: Tue 18 May 2010, 11:15 AM

Last updated: Mon 29 Nov 2021, 12:20 PM

Separately, al Qaeda's Yemen-based regional wing blamed the United States for a March raid that killed some of its militants, saying the attack provided it with "a thousand reasons" to strike back within the United States. The ministry website, quoting the governor of Shabwa province where the men were kidnapped, called on the kidnappers to "quickly release the hostages unconditionally and surrender". It gave no details of the operation.

A government official told that negotiations "are still ongoing" but that "at the same time, troops are being prepared to move into the area".

Details over the number of hostages and who employed them have been unclear since the kidnapping on Sunday.

A local official said initially three oil workers had been kidnapped, but state media later said two Chinese men were abducted.

The men were working for the Chinese company Sinopec, the Defence Ministry website said. An official had said earlier they worked for a unit of U.S. firm Nabors Industries, which denied the report.

"The ... Chinese workers are employees of a competitor of ours which is a Chinese drilling contractor named ZPEB," said a Nabors spokesman. "There is no connection to Nabors whatsoever other than we have two rigs operating in the vicinity."

The kidnappers, believed to be part of a separatist group, demand compensation for injuries suffered by a group member during clashes with troops in a protest, a local official said.

Al Qaeda blames U.S. for raids

Al Qaeda's regional wing said in an Internet message that several of its leading members had been killed in recent raids or clashes, including Nayef al-Qahtani, a wanted Saudi identified as the founder of its media arm, Al Malahim.

The group, which claimed responsibility for a failed bombing of a Detroit-bound plane in December, also blamed the United States for a mid-March air raid in south Yemen in which it said two of its militants were killed.

"By (this) killing, you (Americans) ... have given us a thousand new reasons to strike you in your very home," Qasim al-Rimi, military chief of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, said in an audio recording posted on Islamist websites.

Washington has announced plans to boost military assistance to Yemen. The Arab country has denied that U.S. forces were involved in a series of air raids on suspected al Qaeda targets.

On Sunday, the group threatened the United States with more attacks should harm come to a U.S.-born radical cleric wanted dead or alive by Washington.

Kidnappings of foreigners and Yemenis are common in the impoverished Arabian Peninsula country. Hostages are used by disgruntled tribesmen to press demands on authorities.

Most hostages have been freed unharmed, but in 2000 a Norwegian diplomat was killed in crossfire and in 1998 four Westerners were killed during a botched army attempt to free them from Islamist militants who had seized 16 tourists.

Tensions are rising in south Yemen as separatist movements calling for re-establishment of the region as an independent state become more active. South and north Yemen united in 1990.

On Monday, police dismantled an explosive device that had been placed near the office of the governor of Abyan province in the south, a security official said.

The government, struggling to stabilise a fractious country in which central authority is often weak, faces international pressure to quell domestic conflicts in order to focus on fighting a resurgent al Qaeda.

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