PARIS — A Frenchwoman who works for the World Bank was kidnapped on Tuesday in front of a ministry office in Sana, the Yemeni capital, according to security officials there and President François Hollande of France, who took the rare step of speaking publicly about the abduction.
The audacity of the daytime abduction underscores the limited ability of the Houthi rebels, who took control of the government in late January, to effectively secure the capital.
“This was a young woman, 30 years old, who worked for the World Bank,” Mr. Hollande said in Paris. “We demand her release without delay. We are trying to locate her and we will do everything so that she can gain her freedom.”
The Yemeni Interior Ministry also confirmed the kidnapping.
For years kidnappings have been frequent in Yemen, carried out usually for ransom and sometimes as part of tribal feuds. More recently, as Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has grown in power and the government has lost control of the country, there have been politically motivated kidnappings, too.
Yemeni security officials said that Al Qaeda was likely to be responsible for Tuesday’s abduction.
“The identity of the kidnappers is not yet known, but in general when foreigners are kidnapped it is a hallmark of Al Qaeda,” said Col. Mohammad Hizam, deputy director of public relations for the Interior Ministry.
He said that the kidnappers were in two cars and that they boxed in the vehicle in which the woman was traveling. Her car was found abandoned in another area of Sana. It is likely that she has already been taken from the city and, if the Qaeda affiliate in Yemen is involved, she is probably being held in one of the eastern or southern provinces where the group is strong and there is little government presence.
It is the first time since the Houthi rebels took over in late January and forced the resignation of the president, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, that there has been a kidnapping in the area under their control, Colonel Hizam said.
There has been increasing turbulence and uncertainty over the past several months and the United States, Britain and France closed their embassies in Sana this month.
Mr. Hadi, who had been under house arrest in Sana, escaped this week and fled to Aden in southern Yemen where he retracted his resignation.
The French president, who spoke about the abduction at a news conference in Paris with the prime minister of Italy, Matteo Renzi, indicated that the French government was “ready and mobilized to find her and free her.”
However, it was unclear what steps he intended to take; without an embassy and diplomatic resources in place and uncertainty about who is in control in Yemen, it could be difficult to set up negotiations with the kidnappers.
Shuaib Almosawa contributed reporting from Sana, Yemen.
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(via NY Times)