CAIRO — Houthi rebels in Yemen on Monday released an American freelance journalist who had been in their custody for about two weeks, the State Department and the journalist’s family reported.
The journalist, Casey L. Coombs, one of several Americans believed to be held by the Houthis, was freed as a video was released and published online of Isabelle Prime, a Frenchwoman seized three months ago. The video shows her pleading with the presidents of France and Yemen to help secure her release from her captors.
Ms. Prime, 30, a consultant for a World Bank-financed project, is not believed to be held by the Houthis, and may be held captive by a group aligned with Qaeda militants in Yemen.
Mr. Coombs, who lived in Sana, Yemen’s capital, was seized by Houthi militiamen there in mid-May, and traveled to neighboring Oman on Monday. He was scheduled to undergo a medical evaluation there before flying home to Seattle, his mother, Jill Marie Hammill, said in a telephone interview.
Ms. Hammill said she had received a call from the International Committee of the Red Cross early Monday saying that Mr. Coombs was at the Sana airport and was preparing to leave Yemen. She was able to speak to her son on Monday afternoon, after he had arrived in Oman.
“I cannot describe how happy I am,” she said.
A State Department spokeswoman, Marie Harf, confirmed that Mr. Coombs was in Muscat, the capital of Oman, telling reporters in Washington that “he is in stable condition.”
Mr. Coombs has written for publications including The Intercept, The American Prospect and Time magazine.
Map | U.S.-Supplied Cluster Bombs Used in Yemen Annotated maps showing the Houthi rebels’ drive south, U.S. airstrikes and historical divisions.
The Obama administration has said a number of Americans have been detained by the Houthis, a Shiite rebel group that took control of Yemen’s capital and forced the United States-backed Yemeni government from power earlier year.
American officials have not released details on the identities of the others in Houthi custody.
The video of Ms. Prime, the abducted Frenchwoman, was the first time Ms. Prime had been seen publicly since she and a Yemeni translator were seized Feb. 24 in a brazen daytime abduction in Sana. The translator, identified by news agencies as Sherine Makkaoui, was freed March 10 in the southern city of Aden.
It was not clear when the video of Ms. Prime was produced, but her reference to the Yemeni president, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, suggested it might have been made before he was forced into exile in Saudi Arabia in March by the Houthi insurgents. A Saudi-led military coalition has been bombing Yemen since then as part of its goal to restore Mr. Hadi to power.
In the video, Ms. Prime, speaking in accented English, appeals to President François Hollande of France and Mr. Hadi. Looking frightened and wearing a black head scarf and shirt, she squints into the video camera.
“My name is Isabelle and I’ve been kidnapped 10 weeks ago in Yemen, in Sana,” she said. “Please bring me to France, fast, because I’m really, really tired. I’ve tried to kill myself several times because I know you will not cooperate, and I totally understand.”
Government officials in Paris confirmed the authenticity of the video and reiterated their intention to secure Ms. Prime’s release, but gave no further details.
Abductions have occurred regularly for decades in Yemen, often carried out by tribes as a way of winning concessions from the government during political turmoil. Over the last few years, abductions have become more frequent and are more likely to be carried out by criminal gangs or for political reasons, with hostages often sold to Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen, according to a report by Safer Yemen, a security company based in Sana.
The report said roughly a third of the hostages were Europeans, and that abductions in recent years were often characterized by “increased levels of violence, prolonged captivity, ill-treatment of victims and complex negotiations.”
Kareem Fahim reported from Cairo, and Rick Gladstone from New York. Alissa J. Rubin contributed reporting from Paris, and Rukmini Callimachi from New York.
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(via NY Times)