Red Cross staffer freed in Yemen was 'held for ransom'


Muscat (AFP)

A Red Cross staffer freed after almost a year in captivity in Yemen was held for ransom not for political reasons, diplomatic sources in neighbouring Oman said on Tuesday.

Nourane Houas, 38, an employee of the humanitarian protection programme of the International Committee of the Red Cross, was abducted in the rebel-held capital last December.

The French-Tunisian dual national was released on Monday after mediation by Omani authorities.

Oman is the only Gulf Arab state that is not part of a Saudi-led coalition that has been battling the Huthi Shiite rebels and their allies since March last year.

The sultanate has brokered several previous releases of foreigners held in Sanaa.

"It was a criminal operation for money," one diplomatic source told AFP, without specifying whether any ransom had been paid for the woman's release.

"She is resting and will remain in Muscat for two to three days."

ICRC spokeswoman Rima Kamal declined to be drawn on the identity or motives of the kidnappers.

"We prefer not to speculate on the reasons behind Nourane's abduction and whether it is indeed criminal or not," Kamal told AFP.

"We are not sharing any information in relation to the abductors or their identity for the continuing security and safety of our teams in Yemen."

There have been dozens of kidnappings of foreigners in Yemen over the years, most of them by members of the country's heavily armed tribes seeking concessions from the authorities.

Since the Huthi rebels overran the capital in September 2014, they have detained several Westerners, most of whom have been released through Omani mediation.

Peter Willems, an American who ran an English-language school in Sanaa and was detained by rebel forces on September 20, remains in custody.

Rebel leaders have accused him of providing the Saudi-led coalition with target coordinates for its deadly bombing campaign.